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How to Lead a Successful Meeting

people shaking hands over computers and stacks of paper

Meetings are a way of life in corporate America, and with an increasingly remote and dispersed workforce, virtual meetings are here to stay. A successful meeting can result in collaboration, new ideas, and leave participants feeling productive and positive. A bad meeting can undermine objectives, cause organizational dissent, and leave participants feeling frustrated and as though their time was wasted. The good news is a positive meeting experience is in your control!

Preparing for Your Successful Meeting

Whether you are leading a remote meeting or just attending one, adequate preparation is critical to ensuring a successful meeting. A meeting agenda is a critical component of every meeting. Imagine signing onto a meeting and having no idea why you were invited, what the purpose of the meeting was, and what was expected of you; at the very least you would feel confused, but you may also be unengaged (multitasking throughout the meeting) or frustrated at being included with no clear purpose.

Thoughtfully creating an agenda before the meeting ensures that the right people are invited, that participants are aware of their expected involvement, and allows attendees to come to your meeting prepared. The meeting owner is responsible for ensuring that an agenda is created and shared with participants before the meeting. Some questions to ask yourself when building an agenda include:

  • What is the purpose/goal of the meeting?
  • What items do we need to cover during the meeting, and how long do I expect each topic to take?
  • Do I need to meet more than once to accomplish my goal? If the topics to be covered will take more than 1.5 hours, the answer is likely yes.
  • Am I the one leading the meeting? Do I need anyone else to lead a portion of the meeting?
  • If you are attending a meeting and there is no agenda included, it’s acceptable to ask for one. As a meeting attendee, you should be as prepared as possible before joining, and it is impossible to prepare if you are unaware of the meeting’s purpose and your expected contribution.

Lastly, creation of the agenda will help clarify whether a meeting is needed. For instance, you may find that you’ve invited several people who do not necessarily need to attend and were included for awareness only; these people can, instead, be sent an email summarizing the meeting. Or maybe your whole meeting can be an email, instead!

Running the Meeting

With the agenda in place, your meeting is off to a strong start. If you are the meeting facilitator, you will take an active role in the meeting even if you are not the “owner” of the agenda items. Ensure that you stick to the time frames designated in your agenda. This may mean encouraging the group to move on to subsequent agenda items, suggesting that items be discussed outside the meeting, or re-directing a conversation that goes off course. You are the meeting facilitator, and this is a critical aspect of having a successful meeting, even if it can feel uncomfortable.

Other responsibilities of the meeting facilitator include:

  • Encouraging Participation: each attendee was included for a reason, so if someone is not actively engaged in the meeting, ask them questions to bring them into the conversation.
  • Ensuring Focus: especially with virtual meetings, it can be easy for people to multi-task during a meeting. Make sure that everyone remains engaged by asking for input and feedback. You may also set ground rules at the start of your meeting if you are concerned about lack of engagement.
  • Ensuring Understanding: As the meeting facilitator, it is your responsibility to ensure that everyone in the meeting understands the outcome, next steps, any decisions made, and their responsibilities. At the end of the meeting, summarize what the next steps are and ensure that people who are leaving with action items understand their deliverables and due dates. Another way to ensure understanding is to assign a good note-taker. One person in the meeting should be asked to take meeting notes and distribute them to the group afterwards.  

Running a successful meeting is not easy. You must be firm but respectful, and confident in guiding the conversation. However, there are negative consequences of failing to manage a meeting – people may feel their time was wasted, meeting goals may not be reached, and employees may feel hesitant about attending future meetings of yours.

After the Meeting

Congratulations- you had a successful meeting! However, your work isn’t done yet. Meeting notes should be sent out no more than 24 hours after the end of the meeting and should include clearly outlined action items and delivery dates. Remember, you may have dropped some attendees from the meeting as “inform only” participants, so be sure to include them when sending your meeting notes.

Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings

Remote virtual meetings present their own set of challenges. Even if you follow all the tips outlined above, there are some unique aspects of virtual meetings of which you want to be aware to help ensure success.

  • Make sure that anyone who is presenting in the meeting is comfortable screensharing. If they have never done this before, practice with them ahead of time so you don’t waste valuable meeting time troubleshooting.
  • Use the “hand raise” feature to indicate you have something to say. This prevents over-talking and ensures that your question or comment is addressed.
  • Ask for input. With limited visual cues and the fast pace of meetings, some attendees may get left behind. Take the time to acknowledge each attendee and ensure that they have a chance to contribute.
  • Ensure you remain muted for the duration of the meeting unless you are actively speaking. Others may get unpleasant audio feedback from your microphone without you knowing if you are not muted.
  • Establish ahead of the meeting whether this will be a camera on or a camera off meeting to avoid discomfort at the meeting’s start.

Next time you get asked to attend or plan a meeting, take the extra steps to ensure that the meeting is set up for success – you and the other attendees will be grateful you did!


This blog post was guest written by our Director of Customer Experience, Ruth Johnson.

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