Beyond the Basics: How to Master Holding a Meeting


Over the course of my career, I have run hundreds of meetings, trainings and events in the corporate world, civic organizations and the government — and I’m here to share some tips.

This blog post assumes that you’ve already tackled the basics (have an agenda, stick to the schedule, use a “parking lot” for unrelated topics and follow-up with action items), and you are looking to gain a higher level of proficiency in meeting management. My goal is to provide a set of tips as well as post-meeting reviews that can help you hone your natural speaking abilities to a razor-sharp edge and give even the most seasoned oratory professionals a new trick for their trade.

Cull Talking Points From Your Most Vocal Members In Advance

Some members can hold a meeting “hostage” by constantly wanting to provide input on every topic. You can help manage these members by obtaining their talking points ahead of time and making them part of your program. Or, if they wish to address a topic during the meeting, give them a time limit and a step that will follow their address, like; “John, can you please spend about a minute to introduce us to the new recognition program, before I open it up for discussion?” During the meeting, jot down the start time of each agenda item and, afterwards, review each point for potential “hostage-takers” that need to be addressed before the next meeting.

Make Sure Your Introverts Are Represented

Conversely, you also need to be mindful of the attendees who may be less likely to speak up; the introverted. Meet with them one-on-one (or drop them an email) asking if they have any topics that you can help bring to the group’s attention. And just because you are carrying their torch for the discussion, it shouldn’t preclude them from attending; make sure you send them an email saying “Don’t forget to come today; we’re going to be discussing your topic!” Make a note during every meeting of people who don’t seem to be contributing and follow-up with them if you think they might be unwilling to speak up in front of the group.

Scheduling Mastery

One of the best public speaking tips I’ve ever received, is to encourage the audience to pay attention by saying “I only have a few minutes to talk to you about…” In a similar manner, you can encourage focused meeting participation by scheduling your meeting immediately before another event. Use the upcoming event as a hard-stop for your meeting and make sure the group is aware of it. On the other hand, if you create a lot of recurring meetings, don’t be afraid to cancel one if you do not have a lot of information to cover (save it for the next meeting) or if you believe attendance will be low (as they often are the day before a holiday weekend). Check the schedule and agenda for the next meeting, and send a cancelation notice significantly ahead of time, so that coworkers can update their schedules.

Ask Excellent Questions

Once the meeting begins, ensure you’re being an inclusive leader by asking open-ended questions. “Should we have pizza before our meeting?” is a closed (yes/no) question that only addresses a single topic and could appear to be forcing a personal agenda. “What type of a meal experience would fit our organization?” is not only an excellent open-ended question, but could also encourage discussion on venue, wait staff, event locations and more. Ask a coworker you trust to attend a few meetings that you hold and write down the questions that you pose to the group. Review them for closed wording and re-write them, if necessary, to help train your mind to pose open-ended questions.

Shake Things Up!

I once held a civic organization meeting at midnight. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Naturally, I had nay-sayers telling me that I couldn’t do it, and others telling me that they wouldn’t attend because of the late hour, but at the end of the day (pardon the pun), it was a really unique experience, which people talked about across the entire state! In fact, the meeting received so much attention that it was the most attended gathering in the group’s history. If you find unique ways to make your meeting stand out, you will generate more publicity. Decorate the room, bring candy, or hold a raffle for a silly prize at the end of the meeting, and people will start attending your meetings just to see what you’ll do next.

How To Determine Your Success

Ultimately, I always judge myself by one very simple measurement; word of mouth. When someone tells another person, “you should not have missed yesterday’s meeting!” I know I’ve done an excellent job. Encourage feedback by asking attendees “what could I do to make this meeting a must-attend event?” With a little creativity, and a little work, you can become a meeting master and develop the ability to hold meetings that people eagerly attend.

Your At-A-Glance After Meeting Action Items:

  1. Check the meeting timing for hostage-taking time abusers.
  2. Email your introverted attendees for topics they would like addressed.
  3. Look at the agenda/attendance for the next meeting, to see if you should consider cancelling it.
  4. Review the questions you posed to the group for open-ended format.
  5. Think about how to “shake things” up

Do you have any advanced meeting mastery tactics? Please share them in the comments below!

Daniel Hanttula is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Daniel Hanttula

Thanks Steve! I don’t remember where I received that information (to give them credit), but it really works!