How to Run an Effective Meeting


We’ve all been there: the interminable meeting. The second hand on the clock quickly eclipses the minute hand; the minute hand painstakingly defies logic and stands still. Conversation circles around the nebulous “point” of the meeting. Eyes turn to phones with less and less discretion as time ticks by. Action items are recorded but never heard of again. This is all before the ultimate crime is committed: the meeting running over the end time!

This is frustrating. For everyone. Don’t be someone who just calls a meeting; organize a meeting. Lead meetings that people want to attend, or at least that they don’t dread attending.

1. Create an agenda. An agenda is an atlas participants use to navigate the meeting. They will be better prepared as their minds will turn towards the topics at hand before the meeting even begins. The depth of the agenda will vary depending on the number of participants, how developed the ideas are (or aren’t), and the level of formality that is necessary. The agenda is for all participants, not just you, so remember to distribute it before the meeting.

2. Identify someone to take notes who will deliver them in a timely manner. Some people will still take their own notes to stay focused. However, if you ask someone ahead of time to take notes for the group, he/she can capture action items, conclusions drawn, potential issues, etc. Reviewing these at the close of the meeting is an effective way to ensure everyone is walking away with the same understanding of what just happened.

3. Identify a facilitator. This person will guide the conversation through the agenda and should be comfortable shutting down off topic comments and side conversations. He/she will keep the conversation focused on the agenda: moving through the topics, recapping ideas captured before moving on to the next topic, asking for questions, comments, or clarifications. Just because you are the one who called for the meeting does not mean you need to be the facilitator. If there’s someone on your team who might better fulfill this role ask this person ahead of time if he/she is willing to do so.

4. Stick to your time frame! Having an agenda and facilitator will help keep people on topic but it won’t solve all time management issues. Sometimes conversations, especially when you’re brainstorming, can overwhelm the allotted time frame. Many times you don’t want to squash creativity or the teamwork that’s unfolding so the meeting goes five minutes longer…ten minutes longer…thirty minutes longer. This is unacceptable. People’s time needs to be respected. If productive conversation is still happening, perhaps you should schedule another meeting and/or ask people to submit their remaining thoughts/comments via email and attach them to the bottom of the meeting notes.

While this process is more involved than simply sending an outlook invite to a conference room, it will foster more effective and efficient meetings, which everyone will appreciate. If you have any more tips to lead an effective meeting, please share in the comment section. The more the merrier!

Jocelyn 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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Christine Burke

At our GovLoop weekly team meetings we like to start off each one with an ‘ice-breaker’ activity. They are a great way to engage everyone up front and get them thinking and interacting. We also have a timer who makes sure everyone stays within their allotted speaking slot.


Having a timer is awesome! Having my time respected is one of the most important things for me. I love ice-breakers but often don’t include them when planning a meeting because they can run over so easily. This will definitely help. Thanks!

Brenda Dennis

Great article Jocelyn! Unproductive meetings will kill your soul for sure. I would add creating a parking lot for off-topic ideas that you don’t want to lose track of. Writing those on the white board where everybody can see helps the person who offered the idea feel heard and ensures that the note-taker doesn’t lose track of the ideas. You can add an agenda item at the end of the meeting to go through the parking lot and decide which ideas need to be scheduled for future meetings or moved to other workgroups.


I love this idea! It’s so hard to make everyone feel heard while staying on topic. Potentially scheduling meetings to go over the parking lot will help the group prioritize. Thanks for the tip Brenda!

Andrew Brown

Great article…Well in the military I think the ice-breaker is out but the fundamentals of your article are sound. We always have an agenda and basically go down the topics. The boss or senior ranking person is usually the facilitator unless someone else called the meeting with his approval. This biggest and most important part of this article in my mind is sticking to the timeline. Everyone is busy and if one meeting out of a day’s 4 or 5 goes long it can wreck any schedule. I say again, wonderful article.


You touched on some really important aspects, however one of the factors that helped our team is to have the agenda sent out to the team the day before the meeting via email, this way they know exactly what to expect and are prepared! When team members aren’t prepared they start talking about other things that aren’t related to the task at hand.

Dennis Martin

I completely agree with the idea of sending out the agenda prior to the meeting. Not only is it a waste of valuable time but it can be embarrassing when I’m expected to contribute to a discussion but I didn’t have a chance to go through my notes or get the latest updates because I wasn’t aware that topic was on the agenda.
After years of painful operations meetings I finally got my boss to agree to a structured approach and all these ideas will certainly help. Thanks everyone!