How To Run A Better Business Meeting


Gayathri Ranjit
Department of Business Administration
College of Engineering
E-mail: / /


As future managers, most of us would come across meetings at some stage or the other in our career. If you are like many executives and managers, you may occasionally complain about meetings they're too long, they're a waste of time, they're boring and they're a nuisance. But, most managers agree that meetings are necessary, they're a company's best and most used communications tool and are clearly related to growth and profits. Meetings solve problems, generate ideas and get things done. Though they perform all these functions, meetings are so often criticized because many of them are poorly run. If that is true, what can one do to run a better business meeting?

Eight steps were listed by the *3M Meeting Management Team (New York), which if followed closely, could help run a meeting in a better way. Let's take a look at those 8 steps. These are just tips or suggestions that might make a difference to a business meeting.

Decide why you are calling the meeting

Any activity in an organization will be run with a purpose. Just because "we always have a staff meeting at 3 pm on Mondays" is no reason to have it. Staff meetings should give employees an opportunity to ask questions and give reactions. Meetings also enable managers to make sure everyone gets the same information the same way and that all staff understand where they fit in a project.

Most organizations have regularly scheduled meetings of staff, board and shareholders as well as occasional or impromptu meetings of committees or project teams. These meetings have one or more purposes: to share information, generate ideas, define or solve a problem, recognize achievement, build morale. These are all good reasons for calling a meeting.

Invite the right people

The right people are those who need to be there, those who can contribute because of their unique knowledge and experience. For eg: a person needs to handle an unexpected postal increase on a company magazine or unexpected hike in price of the magazine- in that case he can invite key people from the company's marketing dept, graphics dept, and mailing department. Right people are those who have the power to make a decision, the power to implement a decision.

The number of people should also be right. How many depends on what they are expected to do. Like, if
* To make a decision or solve a problem, 5 or fewer.
* To identify a problem, 10 or fewer.
* To receive hands-on training, 15 or fewer.
* To share info or to view a presentation, not more than 30.

The thumb rule to be followed is larger the group, the shorter the meeting .

Write an agenda

An agenda organizes a meeting. In writing down what will be covered, the leader recognizes the order in which the topic must be discussed as well as the time needed to cover each topic. During the meeting, this agenda helps one to focus attention on the tasks at hand. A good agenda states the meeting's objective. The objective explains why the meeting is necessary and provides the leader with a good way to open the meeting. The agenda should also state the date, start time and finish time, location, topics to be covered, who will present each topic etc. In this format, the agenda may be used to notify people of the meeting.

Choose effective presentation aids

When a meeting presents new information such as talking about a new product, people will remember it better when they see it in graphic images. Likewise, when people must assimilate masses of data-sales, expenses, technical material etc. they will be able to do it more quickly when it is presented visually. Visuals also make the presenter more believable and effective.

In selecting a visual, 3 factors should be taken into consideration-preparation time, cost and overall effectiveness. Chalkboards are the least expensive type. They can be used for small groups. Overhead transparencies can be used to display charts, drawings as well as words. They can be projected in a fully lighted room and are effective in small to medium sized groups.

Another type of presentation is Slide presentations consisting of 35 mm slides which present color images of people and places and, if used in synchronized projectors with sound, can bring about the effect of a motion picture. For best results, they must be viewed in a dimly lit room. These types of presentations are effective with large audiences. They are time consuming and expensive to produce, but they are worth the cost.

Select the right room

The room helps to set the meeting's tone. Size of the room should be appropriate to the size of the group. Meetings that require group interaction need 25 sq.feet / person. If the meeting consists primarily of presentations, 8sq. feet/ person is sufficient.

Seating arrangement influences the flow of information and ideas. A theatre set-up is best for giving presentations to large groups, when conversation will be 1-way. Similarly, a classroom arrangement with tables and chairs facing the front works well for training a small group. Enhance bonding among participants by arranging seats in a semicircle to increase eye contact and other non-verbal communication.

A conference room arrangement consists of a long rectangular table with the meeting leader at the head and is used for staff meetings and the like. To create a feeling of equality and to encourage more participation, have the meeting leader sit in the middle on a long side or use a round table. A U-shaped table is good for both discussion and presentation meetings for both small and medium-sized groups. The meeting leader can sit at the close or open end of the U. Since people are facing each other, they have eye contact with the leader and other participants, which promote interaction.

Other factors to be considered in the selection of a room are proper ventilation, lighting etc.

Select the right time

The right time for a meeting depends on what needs to be done and when people can best participate. Select a time when people are physically awake and alert. Stay away from Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, and the first hour after lunch. Psychologists say that the productivity of a group tapers off after about an hour and a half of work. In case a meeting lasts longer than that, schedule a short break between sessions. Be precise about start and finish times.

Maintain control during the meeting

A good meeting leader doesn't need the charisma and showmanship but should have the ability to control. In some meetings control means coordination- i.e. introducing the presenters and managing the meeting time. In some other meetings control means generating discussion and guiding it towards a solution. In either case, he exercises control by preparing adequately, starting on time and sticking to the agenda. When discussion strays off the topic, the leader can either ignore the remarks or he can ask "Is this subject relevant?"

If a person talks too much, the leader should step in tactfully but firmly and enlist his cooperation in allowing others to talk. If that doesn't work the leader can give him a time limit of say "I understand your point. Now let's hear from someone else." The leader should encourage participation from everyone. If a person is too timid to talk, the leader can seat him/her in a more visible position, ask him to say his name and direct non-threatening questions to him.

When a sideline conversation develops the leader can ask "Do you want to share something with the group?" Differences of opinion can be energizing but if an argument becomes too heated , the leader must step in, acknowledge the strong feelings on both the sides, and ask for cooperation.

By staying in control, he can steer the discussion on course and adjourn the meeting on time. In closing, the leader can summarize the group's accomplishments and thank everyone for participating.

Follow-up after the meeting

When the meeting is over, it's not really over. Even though the meeting may have ended with a good oral summary, the leader should prepare a brief written summary and distribute it to participants within the next 2 days. These action minutes serve as an official record of the meeting. By recapping who is expected to do what by when, the minutes become a tool for follow-up and feedback. Most important, they provide evidence of work accomplished and let people know that their time was well spent.


These 8 tips if followed closely, could transform a dull meeting into a well-organized and interesting one. Business meetings when run well, are powerful communication tools for executives and managers alike in achieving an organization's goals. They are also marvellous opportunities to practice one's leadership skills and to earn recognition from colleagues and superiors.

* 3M Meeting Management Institute was founded in 1988 to sponsor research on meeting productivity around the world. It is located at New York , USA .

Gayathri Ranjit
Department of Business Administration
College of Engineering
E-mail: / /

Source : E-mail January 26, 2005




Occasional Papers Main Page

Important Note :
Site Best Viewed in Internet
Explorer in 1024x768 pixels
Browser text size: Medium