Regardless of the industry you’re in or the kind of work you do, it’s inevitable that at some point you'll need to participate in a business meeting. Some workplaces, especially those in office settings, have several meetings a day, while others may only have them once every few weeks. Regardless, it’s important to be aware of what types of topics are discussed in the meetings at your workplace, how an effective meeting should be conducted and what etiquette rules to follow during a meeting. If you’re in charge of running a meeting, you may be required to come up with icebreakers for the attendees or to take notes, or minutes, at the meeting.
In essence, a business meeting is a gathering of two or more people to discuss ideas, goals and objectives that concern the workplace. Business meetings can be conducted in person at an office or at a different location, or even over the phone and by video conference. Meetings take place with employees, managers, executives, clients, prospects, suppliers and partners, and anyone else related to the organization. In most cases, a meeting needs to take place when the issue at hand is something that cannot be properly communicated over the phone or via email, and requires face-to-face interaction with one or more people.
The purpose of a business meeting is often to make important decisions regarding the organization. Whether it’s deciding on a departmental issue, such as how to grow the marketing budget, or a larger organizational matter, like how many people to lay off during a time of transition, a meeting helps to convey ideas clearly. When speaking in person with important stakeholders, it’s easier to get across important information effectively in order to reach the decision in question.
Another common objective for meetings includes making important announcements. These can be about organizational changes, operational plans or a change in company direction. Often, meetings are held when senior executives join or leave the team or when the company is celebrating a major milestone or success. These kinds of meetings can work to increase employee engagement and organizational harmony.
Business meetings also help to resolve conflict and solve complex problems. Conflict can be a common occurrence in the workplace, with many different personalities working together on a team. While some conflict is healthy and can foster growth, it can also be undesirable and require quick resolution. Holding a meeting can help the disagreeing parties to reach an understanding. Larger problems that involve multiple stakeholders have a better chance of being resolved in a business meeting when the important people in question are all in one place and working toward the same goal.
Reviewing company or project progress is also a common objective of business meetings. Here, the organization tracks how the team is doing on a particular project or how the company is faring as a whole against planned revenue targets. By having frequent progress check-in meetings, organizations ensure that all the relevant parties are aware of the status of important deliverables.
While business meetings help organizations to make decisions and solve complex issues, they can sometimes be an ineffective use of time if not run properly. When people come to meetings unprepared, don’t pay attention and don’t follow up on action items, it can be seen as a waste of time. In order to ensure that the time is used effectively, both the organizer and the participants of business meetings need to be actively involved. If you’re organizing the meeting, prepare a meeting agenda, outlining exactly what will be covered. If there are items that attendees should prepare for, be sure to give them enough time to do so. Some meetings are held on a routine basis, like weekly team touch points. For these kinds of meetings, create a template for the agenda and fill in unique items each week.
Review the attendee list carefully and invite only key stakeholders to the meeting. If someone that needs to be at the meeting cannot attend, you may need to reschedule to accommodate them. Otherwise, running a meeting with a missing stakeholder that is required for decision-making can turn out to be ineffective.
Time is valuable, and it’s important to respect that people who attend your meeting are taking the time out of their day to do so. As a result, it’s vital to ensure the meeting starts and ends on time. When preparing the agenda, decide how much time you’ll need to spend on each item and run the meeting by the clock. If you feel that the meeting is going off-track, reign it in by asking people to stick to the topics on the agenda. If other important issues arise, table them for further discussion at another point.
In order to ensure that no important items brought up in your meeting were missed, take notes, also called minutes. You can either write or type them out yourself during the meeting or assign someone else in the meeting to take the notes for you. This way you will be able to concentrate on the discussion. After the meeting, be sure to review the notes, add any missing items and send them to the important stakeholders. Having a written record of what was discussed in the meeting can be helpful if issues arise in the future.
After the business meeting is over, be sure to follow up on any action items that were decided upon. You may need to send reminders to your colleagues or touch base with them to make sure they completed their tasks. If there are any outstanding issues that were not completed by the deadline, you may need to have an additional discussion with that person.
Some business meetings, especially ones where the attendees don’t know each other very well, require ice breakers. Fun questions or short team-building activities can help to ease tensions and put everyone on a level playing field. One of the easiest ways to break the ice at a meeting is to ask a question that reveals a unique or interesting quirk about each person. The answers to these kinds of questions help people relate to one another. Some examples include:
- If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?
- Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
- If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
Icebreaker questions don’t have to deal with the topic of the meeting. They are designed to get people talking and listening to one another. Another great meeting icebreaker involves each attendee telling two truths and a lie, and the rest of the attendees have to guess which item is the lie. This is a great way to get to know the people at the meeting. Icebreakers can also come in the form of group activities. For example, ask the people at the meeting to find someone at the meeting who has something specific in common with them, like a pet or a brand of car. This forces people to leave their seats and talk to others who they may not generally speak with.
Some icebreaker activities involve a bit of preparation on the meeting organizer’s part. One activity includes writing the name of celebrities on small pieces of paper and sticking a name on the back of each attendee. In this game, each attendee has to ask yes or no questions about the person whose name is on their back, trying to guess who it is.
While the culture of your organization will inform how you should behave at business meetings, there are some aspects of meeting etiquette that are universal. One of the best ways to attend a meeting is to be prepared. This means knowing what is on the agenda and having done the preparation or research to go along with the items you’re responsible for. For example, if an agenda item involves discussing a marketing plan that you’re working on, it’s important to go to the meeting with the plan notes in hand, ready to discuss them in detail. It’s also equally important to arrive on time.
Focusing on the meeting instead of your smartphone or laptop is another way to demonstrate your professionalism, so turn off your phone and shut your laptop during the meeting. If you need to access any files on your laptop for the meeting, be sure to turn off your email so you’re not distracted by incoming messages. Remember that the meeting requires your attention and dividing it between your phone or laptop will not result in an effective discussion.
Being a good listener and an active participant are central aspects of attending a business meeting. Be sure to follow along with what people are saying, ask questions when you’re not sure of something and provide answers or insight on items you’re responsible for. Your body language is also part of being an active participant; this means sitting up tall instead of slouching in your chair and making eye contact with the people you’re speaking to.
Depending on the type of meeting you attend, you may want to send a thank you note to the meeting organizer or the people you met with. This might be appropriate if you’re meeting with an important client or prospect. You can thank them for their time and reiterate some important things you discussed in the meeting to show your enthusiasm.
When you’re tasked with recording the minutes of a meeting, it can seem like a stressful job. A few tips can help you note all of the important points in a meeting without missing anything. It’s important to understand the purpose of minutes. The notes taken during a meeting are meant to be a written record of what took place there. These notes can be helpful for the attendees to remember what was said or they can provide a breakdown of the meeting for those that were not able to attend. As a result, it’s important to take down all the key items discussed during the meeting, including decisions made, tasks or next steps planned and resolutions achieved.
Before attending a meeting, write out a simple template that you can fill in while taking notes. Get a copy of the agenda for the meeting and use it as a guide. At the top of the agenda, add a space for noting the names of all the meeting attendees. If there are key stakeholders missing, you’ll want to note that as well in case you need to follow up with them later. Depending on the type of meeting and the topics to be discussed, there are a number of items you can add to the minutes template:
- Date and time of the meeting.
- Date and time of the next meeting, if one is being scheduled.
- Names of attendees and names of any key missing stakeholders.
- Decisions that were made or options that were discussed for each agenda item.
- Next steps for each agenda item.
- Agenda items which were not discussed at the meeting, but will be carried over to the next meeting.
- Any new business that was not indicated on the original agenda.
- Tasks or action items and the individuals they were assigned to, including due dates if specified.
By developing a template for the meeting minutes, you’ll be in a better position to record the important takeaways and follow up on any necessary business after the meeting.