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Best Practices: How to run an effective meeting

We have all been there: stuck in boring, pointless meetings that seem to last forever and get nothing done.
May 25, 2011

We have all been there: stuck in boring, pointless meetings that seem to last forever and get nothing done. Now, however, it’s up to you to run the meeting and you desperately want to avoid it turning into one of those. You’re ready to go to almost any length to keep it interesting – should you incorporate music? Or visual aids? Or clowns and jugglers?

Running an effective meeting can be extremely intimidating but there are several key considerations that will help you get the most out of it while keeping your colleagues not only awake but involved and invested in the meeting.

The first question you should ask when planning a meeting is: what are the goals of this meeting? Ideally, there should be a general goal for the organization that everyone can contribute toward, as well as specific goals for the individuals. By identifying beforehand what the goal of the meeting is, you can shape and direct the meeting to maximize its effectiveness. Avoid trying to cram too many goals into one meeting; this can easily turn into a confusing, directionless meeting where everyone leaves not knowing what they got out of it. Conversely, make sure that there is a definite goal.

Once you know the goals of the meeting, be sure to communicate them to everyone involved and give them the chance to prepare. Let everyone know what the meeting is going to cover and what level of contribution is expected from the attendees.

Once you’re in the meeting itself, it is important that you lead and direct it, but also make sure that people have room to contribute. When meetings get bogged down in minutiae and conversation, this is often because the person leading the meeting either did not come into it with a clear plan or simply is not keeping things on point. Come in with a planned outline for the meeting and don’t let things get too far off topic or spend too much time on any one issue.

At the same time, however, it is essential that you give your colleagues a chance to contribute and voice their opinions and concerns. Not only will this keep them involved and interested in the meeting, but if you’re smart you want to be paying attention to what they have to say anyway.

No one wants to run a boring, pointless meeting and no one has to. And you don’t even need to bring in clowns and jugglers to keep people interested, you just need to show them that you value both their opinion and their time.

Chris Palmer is the director of American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking and author of the Sierra Club book “Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom.”

Peter Kimball is an independent filmmaker and graduate student at American University.

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