I have been to alot of meetings over the years – some great, some not so great, some pointless, some redundant, some effective… Over the years I have gathered together my tactics for both being a participant and being the organizer.

Meeting organizers
A meeting organizer doesn’t even have to be the person in charge of the actual meeting.

Organization:

  • Agendas. The agenda is the map for the meeting. If it’s a collaborative group (committee, project group, etc.) the core agenda should be agreed upon my everyone ahead of time. Of course, things ideas will come up during the meeting, but there should be a basic agenda. The agenda should also be distributed to all participants ahead of time, so that they can do any preparation needed. Don’t meet if there is no agenda. If there is no reason to meet (and a milestone celebration or project update CAN be a reason to meet), the meeting shouldn’t be scheduled. Agendas should include items like todo/action lists, discussion topics, as well as updates from previous meetings – these can be in the form of progress reports.
  • Frequency: weekly, monthly, as needed? Projects work best when there is a regular meeting cycle with scheduled targets/deadlines (what happens when targets aren’t met really depends upon the nature of the group) 
  • Note taker to capture ideas. Cameras can also be helpful in capturing layouts and visual ideas.

Meeting Leader/Timekeepers
Often these roles are split out, with the time keeper actually just being charged with keeping up with time, freeing the meeting leader to focus on discusssion and keeping the meeting on track.

  • Make efficient use of time. Evaluate uses of technology. What can be done via email, phone, IM? Distribute materials(links, articles, research, etc.) ahead of time so that members have a chance to do preparation. F2f (Face to Face) time is precious and important; don’t misuse it.
  • Tangents and meeting control: Meetings can quickly get out of hand with idle chitchat or tangents. Some ideas may need to be tabled for further discussion or ideas, or assigned as meeting followup work.  
  • Listen.  Build in some time in the agenda for discussion or questions.
  • Group dynamics: Unfortunately, not everyone may be on the same page or one person may monopolize a meeting; the leader has to keep the agenda moving as well as deal with all of the elements of group dynamics. While it is a challenge, keeping control of a meeting is important.
  • Role of members: Members should know what is clearly expected of them. For project groups and committees, assign action items to members and record that in the notes. If a member is not able to do their role (e.g., never come to a meeting prepared),  the meeting coordinator needs to address it. For communication briefs and meetings, letting participants know when (and how) questions will addressed is important.

Participants
Often we are asked to be on a committee or group with a leader/chair/meeting organizer, who has little experience with meetings. If the group is volunteer based, you may choose to leave it rather than suffer through endless ineffectual meetings; if it’s assigned or mandatory, you will have to make the best of it — but you can do things to help.

  • Ask for an agenda. Ask questions about the agenda (e.g., who is doing what item? what is the target deadline?)
  • Ask about meeting schedule. If there is no agenda and nothing to discuss (which is impossible if previous meetings have been successful), it is ok to suggest rescheduling. 
  • Take notes. Ask about note taking if no one is assigned (or volunteers) for the role.  
  • Understand your role and do your part. What are you expected to do? Do it.
  • Be respectful. Always treat your colleagues with respect even if they are being disrespectful to you (and if they are being disrespectful, you can say that, but really the meeting leader should step in before it gets that far!)  
  • …do not allow others to waste your time. If the group seems off on a tangent, ask how it relates to the matter at hand. You may be surprised that it is related. Suggest that it be added to a upcoming agenda, if the meeting leader doesn’t.
  • Remember you are not the meeting leader. While you can do things to facilitate a better meeting, the meeting leader sets the tone and structure for the meeting. Unfortunately, you may have to suffer through meetings, if the meeting leader is ineffective.

There are a lot of other things that you can do as both a leader and participant, but this hits the basics.