For the organiser: how to run an effective meeting

I’ll get straight to it: owning and running meetings effectively is hard work. Put plainly, meetings are expensive and if the goals of a meeting aren’t met, you’ll most likely see long-lasting negative effects on the productivity of everyone involved. Not to mention, the project will suffer immensely because no one has a clear sense of what’s going on. To be able to own and run meetings like a boss, it’s critical to first and foremost evaluate if what you’re about to “get in a room” to “have a chat” about is even worth having a chat about. We’ve all been in meetings that could have easily been email threads, Slack convo, or in some cases, even a shout across the room. If you do decide that inviting a few people to have a face-to-face chat is absolutely essential to what you’re working on, I have a few tips for you.

Consider only inviting people who are most essential to the outcome of the meeting — whether that be a decision or a brainstorm. Try to keep the number as low as possible. As a general rule, if the meeting is 30 minutes long, it’s usually a good idea to only have a maximum of 3–4 people in the room. Any more than that will make it difficult for you to accomplish much in 30 minutes. Even for longer meetings, I wouldn’t recommend having more than 6 people in the room for an agenda-driven meeting (unless you absolutely have to). Having just a few key team members will ensure that each person is able to participate without the meeting running short, which will allow for more well informed decision-making.

When sending out the meeting invite, be sure to provide some context so the attendees have a sense of what they’ll be spending 30–60 minutes of their day talking about. You don’t necessarily need to send out a detailed agenda, if you don’t have it fleshed out yet but a few words describing the issue at hand would suffice. Doing so will give your teammates a chance to prepare for the meeting ahead of time and come to the meeting with questions/concerns/comments. This will inevitably ensure that your meeting runs a lot smoother and the decision making process, faster. I find it a bit frustrating (and am definitely guilty of this) to receive a meeting invite with a vague title and no description. Having to nudge the organiser to get context is a big waste of time for everyone involved, including the organiser.

This one’s pretty obvious but still worth mentioning. Please do not stroll in with an ambiguous plan to “figure it out as we go along”. It’s always best to bring an agenda for the meeting that’s been thought-through in advance. Loose agenda meetings quickly get derailed, going off into tangents that know no bounds and finally end in an unproductive mess. To avoid that, walk in with your talking points and the goal that you’re trying to achieve, share it with everyone and get on with it!

Never, ever, ever leave the room without assigning action steps (if applicable, of course). I’ve lost count of the number of meetings that I’ve been a part of where everyone has walked out of the room with no clear sense of what they’re responsible for or what the next steps are. Meetings are quite meaningless if there aren’t any concrete action items to end with. I’d recommend taking the last 5–7 minutes quickly recapping what you’ve discussed collectively, listing out all the required action steps, and finally, assigning them to the relevant people. It’s an important step and one that’ll bring a lot of clarity.

For attendees

As an attendee, you also have a responsibility to ensure that you’re 1. Getting what you need out of meetings, and 2. Giving what’s expected of you. A few things to be cognisant of:

When a meeting invite lands in your calendar, be very mindful and deliberate about whether you accept or decline (I think maybe is a crap option, most maybe’s never make it). If you don’t think you’ll add much value to the meeting or if the topic isn’t relevant to you, reach out to the organiser and ask why you were invited or simply decline. I know this sounds so blatantly obvious but a lot of times, we blindly accept invites putting too much trust in the organiser’s abilities.

There are a few things to keep in mind here:

1. Please, please make sure you respond to the invite so your intent to attend (or lack of) is clear to everyone.
2. Make sure you arrive on time. If you’re going to be late or not going to be able to make it, let the organiser know so the meeting can start on time.
3. Give the meeting your undivided attention. Leave your phone behind, don’t open your laptop if you don’t need to.

Try to contribute in your own way — as much or as little as you think makes sense. Being engaged doesn’t mean that you have to force a comment out or absolutely have to say something, it simply means that you’re making the most of your time in the room by learning, listening, speaking, analysing, taking notes, or whatever else it may be.

Designer of many things. Currently, Head of Design at Unmind. Creating a community for dog lovers — Dear Genie.