Business Meeting Etiquette Part 2: The Facilitator

Meeting Etiquette Part 1 focused on attending business meetings from a participant’s point of view. Now, we move on to how to be the best possible meeting leader.

1.      Take the lead. Learn how meetings are run. Get familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order as the foundation of how all meetings are conducted. How closely you choose to follow it will depend on the level of formality of the meeting.

The person who organizes and leads the meeting has full charge over whether the meeting is a success. If that person is you, you must take control and manage every detail, including how the meeting is run, the tone and pace, what topics are discussed, how participants behave, and what outcomes and results occur by the end of the meeting. You are also in charge of follow up.

2.         Schedule the date and time. As far in advance as possible, alert everyone you are inviting. Specify the date, time, location, and purpose. Ask participants to respond within a few days to confirm their availability. Doing this well in advance gives you the flexibility to choose alternate dates if the majority cannot attend.

Initially, send an email to everyone you want to attend, listing at least three dates and times. Ask everyone to respond with all the dates and times they are able to attend, and the most popular date and time will be the winner.

To avoid annoying extra emails, ask people to respond only to you or to the single designated person, not to the entire group. Or, address the email to yourself and use the “Bcc” box, and then list everyone’s name in the body of the mail so people will know who is invited. This method guarantees no one will send other emails “To All.”

3.         Confirm any guest speakers. Part of your job is to coordinate all details with the guest speaker. Confirm all details in writing-and orally, if possible, including: the date and time, exact address or location, driving directions, the start and end time of the overall meeting, and the exact start and end time for the guest speaker to present. Other helpful information might include parking instructions, background information on the company or organization, and a list of all participants, as appropriate.

4.      Draft an agenda. Send a draft agenda as soon as possible to gain input and approval. If a person needs more time on the agenda, they can ask you to add it in advance, as running overtime will not be acceptable.

Try not to cover too many topics in any one meeting. The “KISSS” method is the best policy: keep it simple, short, and sweet. A brief, one hour or less, targeted meeting will always be more productive than a longer two+ hour meeting where too many items are discussed.

About two weeks to a full week in advance, distribute a final agenda, attaching all pertinent reading materials to review before the meeting. State clearly which reports certain individuals are expected to make and ask speakers to bring copies of their reports for everyone at the meeting. This way each participant can be fully informed without the speaker having to read every word. Written reports will also help those who were absent catch up. As the facilitator, always ask for an electronic version of the report so you can send it to those who were absent.

For optimum productivity, have all reports submitted ahead of time so everyone will be well informed when they attend. Those who must be absent can submit their comments ahead of time, and the time at the meeting can be full spent on discussions.

Show specific start and end times for each report, to keep things flowing and not run overtime. For example:

8:45 a.m.        Check in and get coffee
9:00                 Welcome and Overview of the meeting
9:10                 John’s Report
9:30                 Jane’s Report
9:45                 Old/New Business
9:55                 Final Q&A, Next steps, Wrap-up
10:00               End.

When writing the cover memo or email, clearly state the meeting will begin and end on time, and state that everyone is expected to arrive on time. Review the guidelines on conduct you expect throughout the meeting, including raising hands to speak, and to please turn off all cell phones, and other electronic devises during the meeting.

5.      Make your opening remarks. Either have people introduce themselves, or introduce everyone yourself, adding why you have invited these individuals to attend, and from what perspective you think their contributions will be most helpful.

State the purpose of the meeting and what results and outcomes you hope to achieve by the end of this meeting.

Review the guidelines for proper conduct at the meeting, such as raising hands and sticking to the agenda timeline. Make a final reminder about turning off all cell phones and other electronic devices, so people will give their full and undivided attention to the meeting. Ask if anyone has to leave the meeting early or is expecting an important call. If no one responds, you should have a fully attentive group.

Also ask for whether anyone has last minute items to add to the end of the agenda or if anyone has any questions before you begin.

6.      Keep the meeting flowing: Throughout the meeting, move the agenda along, calling attention to every page number or agenda item you are about the discuss. Be clear in your introduction to each section as to whether it will be an interactive time or a time to just listen. Your foremost goal is to drive the meeting toward constant results.

When you notice certain participants are not contributing, request comments from them by name, such as “John, we haven’t heard your views on this, what do you think?” Do not allow a few individuals to monopolize all discussions.

Manage the timing of each item on the agenda, reminding a speaker or the group when they are going on too long or getting off point.

Do not rely on a wall clock in the room. Bring your own small portable clock to have in front of you. There’s nothing more distracting than watching someone’s head constantly looking up at the wall.

Stick to the agenda. Establish what is called a “parking lot list,” whenever people get off track.

Encourage free communications, managed through raised hands and only having one person speak at a time. Build an environment where everyone is encouraged to share points of view and new “out of the box” ideas. Build a T.E.A.M., “Together Everyone Achieves More” spirit among the group that makes attending meetings fun and productive. There are no dumb ideas and no one should be made to feel as though his or her contributions were not welcomed.

Do not let the meeting get out of hand. Disagreements and arguments can be healthy to allow participants to air their opinions. However, make sure all comments are directed to you, the chair, and not at the person on the other side of the argument. If the discussions turn ugly, step in and take back control of the meeting to move on.

7.      End the meeting on a positive note. Take a time to recap the meeting discussions, reviewing all action items and next steps with specific names attached, and reminders of all due dates. Finally, thank everyone for attending.

8.         Follow up promptly. Immediately following the meeting, on the same day, send attendees a quick e-mail thank you note for attending the meeting. Keep this message brief and positive.

In a separate email, summarize everything that took place at the meeting, and what is expected of each person in the days and weeks ahead. Sending this written recap will serve three purposes: Those who were absent will get caught up; If no one took minutes, you now have a record of what transpired; and it will serve as marching orders for individuals who have assignments before the next meeting. Without a to-do list, we all forget things.

Send the recap within a week of the meeting, while your notes and mind are still fresh. The longer you wait, the fuzzier your memory may become. Mark your calendar with all due dates and follow-up with individuals to ensure progress.

BONUS: Pre-printed name cards and/or name tags for each participant are a nice touch at meetings where not everyone knows each other. I like having both. When name cards are printed properly in large, bold letters, it helps me learn who is speaking, and name tags help me to identify people during breaks. You can also ask people to pass around the appropriate number of business cards. Participants can place them on the table in front of them in the order in which people are seated.

QUESTION: What other items do you have to add to this list that will help make every meeting the most productive?  We’d love to hear from you.

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Happy Practicing!


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2 Responses to "Business Meeting Etiquette Part 2: The Facilitator"

  • Susan Ogle says:
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