How to run effective meetings: The 8 key steps
Last updated on: December 29, 2022
Did you know that professionals are attending 4-7 more meetings this year than before the pandemic? And it’s all thanks to the majority of industries going virtual. While this isn’t in itself a bad thing, it’s a given that some (if not most) of these meetings weren’t actually effective.
With their increased frequency, virtual meetings have opened up a door to a world of unproductively spent time — all because it’s easier and quicker than ever to organize a meeting.
After all, it’s just one video call, right?
But, even if you don’t have to attend a virtual meeting because most of your meetings happen in a conference room, you probably already know that there’s a handful of problems that can arise if a meeting isn’t planned and executed the right way.
To avoid suddenly finding yourself absolutely drained after several meetings even before your lunch break, we’ve written a small guide on how to run effective meetings.
In this blog post, you will learn about:
- The importance of effective meetings,
- The main difference between effective and productive meetings, and
- The 8 key elements of effective meetings.
Table of Contents
What is an effective meeting?
An effective meeting starts on time, stays on the subject, and includes only the right people necessary to achieve the stated goal.
I’ve personally experienced a number of effective meetings throughout my life, and they all had the same few, albeit crucial, components:
- They were just long enough to discuss issues or ideas,
- Meeting organizers/speakers knew no one really liked meetings and kept that in mind when setting times and dates, as well as when presenting,
- Our time was respected and valued,
- Only those necessary were present,
- We were all focused and engaged at the meeting, and
- The meeting had a clear aim and goal.
An effective meeting serves its purpose. It helps the whole team make a plan or solve a problem together.
If you’re having meetings just for meeting’s sake, you’re not going to get anywhere except for wasting everyone’s time and energy.
To make your meetings effective, aim for:
- A specific goal,
- The right people included in the conversation,
- A constructive collaboration, and
- The desired results.
Including these elements in a meeting will help everyone stay focused and engaged. You’ll also get the right things done and within the timeframe.
Why is it important to have effective meetings?
Attending meetings is of vital importance for employees because everyone gets to be at the same place at the same time to discuss an issue.
Still, despite their importance, meetings can sometimes be perceived as more of a burden than an effective solution, especially when run poorly.
That’s why being effective isn’t just about gathering people and conducting a meeting — it’s about doing it right.
But what does doing a meeting right mean?
Well, it means that the meeting succeeded in improving employee engagement and had a clear purpose that was ultimately fulfilled.
If your meeting isn’t organized properly, it can turn into a real catastrophe. Without a clear agenda, people can become bored and start whispering to each other, only prolonging the meeting.
All you need for a meeting to be effective is a clear goal, the right players, a concise talking-points list, and by the end — an idea of how to move forward.
Without these important components, you would have achieved the same effect with a casual lunch break instead of a prolonged meeting.
Running an effective meeting goes hand in hand with being productive, so let’s see the difference between effective and productive meetings and learn more about their relationship.
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
Have you ever wondered what the main difference is between productivity and efficiency in the workplace? To learn how to reduce time and energy wasted, check out the blog post below:
Effective meetings vs productive meetings: What is the main difference?
Organizing an effective meeting can be fairly easy if you follow the right guidelines.
But what makes a particular meeting effective? Is it its capability to produce results?
Also, is making the most of your meeting time enough? Although being productive and not wasting time is important, it isn’t always the key to success.
We’ll explain the difference between an effective and productive meeting in a bit.
Let’s say you brought your team members together for a meeting to discuss a specific issue. You know you have an issue to discuss, but your agenda isn’t clear enough. Your team members are confused, and the conversation doesn’t seem to lead in the desired direction. And the time is almost up!
This is where you realize — your meeting wasn’t effective because you didn’t prepare a clear agenda. You can get multiple tasks done and still be nowhere near solving a specific problem. Your meeting also wasn’t productive, even though you used up time.
Here are some tips on how to run productive team meetings:
- Start on time and end on time,
- Do some pre-planning,
- Define follow-up actions, and
- Keep a conversation flowing.
A meeting that is both effective and productive leaves everyone feeling confident that they’ve used the time spent in the best possible way.
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
If you want to learn more about how you can complete the right tasks without wasting too much time or energy, take a look at the following blog post:
To create a positive and constructive atmosphere in a meeting, include the following elements in your strategy.
What are the 8 key elements of effective meetings?
So, let’s break down those elements mentioned previously into the building blocks of a successful meeting. They are universal bite-sized tips to give you a starting idea.
You can then adapt them to your industry, regardless of whether you’re managing a group of writers, construction workers, or teaching at an elementary school.
Key element #1: Hold a meeting only when it can’t be an email
Most industries have got used to holding meetings for anything and everything. And after all these years, I’ve noticed that it’s usually due to the fear we won’t get our message across.
Even in your personal life, how many times have people called you after exchanging a few messages, saying they’d rather talk because it’s easier than texting?
So, to combat this, always assess whether or not what you have to say, discuss, or ask requires a meeting.
Smaller fires can be handled through:
- A chat communication app,
- A brief huddle at someone’s desk, or
- A very clear, directional email.
Here’s a checklist to help you decide whether or not you should schedule a meeting:
✅ Is this an issue that requires a quick solution, a brainstorming session, or all hands on deck?
✅ How much does the issue affect the rest of the company?
✅ How many people do I realistically need to solve this?
✅ Can I formulate the topic more precisely so we find the solution quicker?
✅ What is the desired outcome?
✅ Is that outcome more important than the work everyone involved is doing right now?
✅ Do I have enough time to prepare?
If you’re still not sure whether you’re wasting time on unnecessary meetings, you can also use a productivity tracker to spend your time in a productive way.
In Clockify, you can see where your time goes in reports, analyze how much time you spend in meetings, and check statistics. This will help you make better decisions in the future and schedule a meeting only when there’s a real need for it.
For a meeting to be effective, decide whether gathering people in a conference room is actually the best solution in that particular situation.
Key element #2: Reduce unproductive time spent in a meeting
“Most meetings are too long, too dull, too unproductive — and too much a part of corporate life to be abandoned.” — Lois Wyse, author, advertising executive
While we consider it a practice long forgotten in elementary and high school, doing a mock meeting for yourself before the time comes can be extremely useful.
Presenting out loud, in front of a mirror, your pet, or a plant, will give you an idea of how much time it takes you to deliver the information. Maybe you’ll notice tiny digressions, filler words, or behavior patterns that stall your presentation time.
Also, pay attention to the time-wasters such as technical difficulties or digressions, and try to eliminate them.
Here are some of the practical ways how you can make the most out of your meeting time:
- Set a clear objective,
- Send Calendar invites,
- Structurize the meeting, and
- Appoint important roles for the meeting.
When everyone knows what to do and how to do it, it becomes much easier to lead a meeting from which the whole team will benefit.
Key element #3: Invite only the necessary people to meetings
“Any committee that is the slightest use is composed of people who are too busy to want to sit on it for a second longer than they have to.” — Katharine Whitehorn, British journalist and radio presenter
When we say necessary, we mean the right people.
When organizing a meeting, consider only those directly related to the topic. If you’re doing a project overview, then maybe you need only the team leads since they can relay information to their teams later on. Or, if you’re doing a progress report, you can cut down on time and energy by having people send in their briefs, which you can then summarize.
Inviting people who are only remotely connected to the topic to a meeting has several drawbacks:
- They rarely have/need anything significant to contribute,
- Their time and energy could be better used elsewhere during that time,
- Depending on personality, they might be a source of distraction, and
- They might feel pressured to pay attention to information that doesn’t really concern them, which will throw them off and add more stress.
When you decide on what type of meeting you’ll be holding, make a list of people who are absolutely necessary (because of their feedback, role, or direct influence on issues at hand). Everyone else can get a memo.
Key element #4: Prepare meeting agenda and make it functional
“You have a meeting to make a decision, not to decide on the question.” — Bill Gates, Microsoft Co-founder
If you’re wondering how exactly to make sure your meetings are effective, making an agenda and sticking to it is never a bad idea. Without one, you will have a string of conversations leading nowhere.
However, having an “order of business” of this sort is not enough.
To make an agenda that runs smoothly, moves from topic to topic, and leaves enough space for a discussion, you’ll need to check off a few boxes:
✅ Formulate each topic as a question, rather than a vague idea (for example — “How can we improve quarterly sales by 15%?” instead of “Quarterly stats overview”),
✅ Place the important topics first (people lose focus as the meeting goes on, and you need their full attention),
✅ Keep introductions short (this includes informalities and “breaking the ice” activities),
✅ Prepare questions, in case there are none from the attendees,
✅ Keep discussions to 5, 10 minutes tops if they are unprompted by you, and
✅ End meetings with a summary, repeating what was agreed upon in very short points.
Don’t shy away from investing time in making the agenda as effective as possible. When done correctly, an agenda is a solid framework to rely on. Apart from that, when you have a clear overview of what needs to be covered during a meeting, you minimize the chances of having the meeting derailed, it lasting too long, or making everyone fall asleep.
Key element #5: Make meetings more inclusive and invite everyone to collaborate
What’s the point of a meeting if you’re the only one talking and everyone just stays silent or keeps nodding regardless of the point of the discussion?
Collaboration in a meeting is necessary to keep everyone included, but also to find the best possible suggestions or a solution for a problem in question.
You can even allocate some time for the team to review or maybe add something new and beneficial to the agenda before you send it out.
Making participants feel more included both before and during the meeting is essential. It shows that you care about their opinions and value their efforts.
There’s always someone who’s a little uncomfortable being an active participant, so it’s important to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts.
To keep participants engaged, here are a few pointers:
- Try not to sound monotone,
- Have the participants introduce themselves before speaking,
- Encourage people to write down their questions, if they have some, and
- Build trust by enabling an open exchange of ideas.
As a meeting leader, you should do everything you can to create a productive and collaborative atmosphere in a meeting. That way, you encourage your team members to actively participate in the discussion.
Key element #6: Know how to lead a meeting and assign roles
“A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.” — Barnett Cocks
One of the worst things that can happen in a meeting is losing control of the conversation. Without proper guidance, people can take the topic, run with it, go off on tangents, and derail the whole meeting.
As a meeting organizer, you’ll need to steer the conversation to keep it as useful as possible for everyone involved. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time.
Set yourself up as a figure of authority by leading the dialogue with the right questions, listening to people, and letting them speak — but paying attention to when they need to be stopped.
Also, think about assigning meeting roles. Letting everyone know of their exact role is important because it makes it clear to the whole team who’s in charge of each segment of the meeting.
Some of the roles are:
- Leader — a person who arranges and leads the meeting,
- Chat Moderator — a person whose job is to manage the chat and provide the participants with a seamless experience,
- Notetaker — a person who writes down all the important information and possible challenges, and
- Timekeeper — a person who tracks time spent at each stage of a meeting to help the leader move the participants through the agenda and ensure time efficiency.
When everyone knows their responsibilities, there won’t be unnecessary misunderstandings, and it’ll be easier to control the flow of a meeting.
Key element #7: Name different types of meetings
“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’” — Dave Barry, author, former Miami Herald humor columnist
Elise Keith, author of Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization, wrote a short piece on what makes an effective meeting. Among her tips, one that seriously stood out as an excellent idea was to stop calling meetings just that and give each type a specific name that describes it perfectly.
And why should we do that?
When someone calls you in for a “meeting about the new project”, can you immediately tell what it’s going to be about, who’s invited, and how long it’s going to take? No.
But, if they schedule a “project progress briefing,” you’ll probably know immediately what the meeting is all about. You’ll instantly know the meeting is for team leads and managers only, that you’ll need to prepare a short progress report, and that it usually lasts around 45 minutes.
Think of Agile development and its coining of the term “stand up.” This is a 10-15 minute meeting, usually at someone’s desk (to avoid overstaying in an office) — and everyone says in a sentence or two what they’ll be doing for the day or the week.
Note what types of meetings you usually hold, and then see what names you can give them so the attendees can immediately tell what to expect. Naming your meetings resolves many misunderstandings and sets up expectations right from the start.
Key element #8: Learn from and build on previous meetings
Make your own notes during and after the meetings, even if you write down just one word or a phrase. This will help you remember important details.
To collect valuable insights, do the following:
- Mark questions that were redundant,
- Observe how people reacted to your presentation, and
- Jot down anything in your agenda that gave positive or negative results.
Pay attention to what worked and what didn’t. Maybe the topics weren’t clear enough, or the direction of your list of topics wasn’t fluent enough.
This is simply to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes twice. Self-awareness is useful when holding meetings, especially because it labels you as a speaker willing to improve.
Additionally, you can always ask for feedback after the meeting by sending the attendees an email or asking one-on-one.
In summary: Make your meetings effective by creating a constructive atmosphere
Meetings don’t have to be the bane of the workplace. After all, their core purpose is to gather relevant people to solve a problem or come up with ideas.
So, as long as you prepare an agenda that clearly outlines what you want to achieve, ask for specific input, and direct conversations and comments, you’ll hold an effective meeting.
✉️What tips and tricks do you have when hosting a meeting (in-person or virtual)? Do you have any advice as someone who often attends them? Send us your comments and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we might feature your examples in one of our future articles.