Meetings are so common in the workplace that if you want to run a business, you need to learn how to run a meeting. They provide an easy way to disseminate information, address questions, brainstorm or debate and promote teamwork.

Due to their infinite usefulness, there's no way to get around the fact that you'll need to eventually hold a meeting for one reason or another. You might have to assemble a board of directors and write your meeting procedures into a series of bylaws. But even small-scale meetings require an action plan for success. Without knowing how to preside over a meeting, you might accomplish nothing more than wasting time and putting your attendees to sleep.

If it sounds tricky, don't panic. Successfully presiding over a meeting is a skill that, like anything else, develops over time and with a few hiccups along the way. There are ways to get a few steps ahead of the game and stand out as upper-management potential when you get a chance to preside over a meeting.

It All Starts With Planning

Successful meetings don't occur on the spur of the moment. As the person in charge of running the meeting, you need to plan ahead and do some work outside of the meeting itself.

  • Set a broad goal. Why does this meeting need to happen? Can you possibly accomplish the same goal without a meeting? Meetings require coordination and don't represent the most convenient method for every little thing. Use email or personal conversation when appropriate. Reserve meetings for brainstorming, team activities or providing information that will likely generate many questions. 

  • Decide who needs to attend. Meetings take employees away from the work they're focusing on. They need to enter and leave the meeting understanding why their attendance was valuable. Also, consider the company's hierarchy. For example, have a meeting with the department heads and allow them to coordinate their own meetings with the employees they oversee. 

  • Set a time and a place. Once you know who needs to attend, try to coordinate a convenient time for the meeting. Also, choose a meeting place that everyone can easily get to, has enough space for everyone and can accommodate any technological needs.

  • Create and disseminate the meeting agenda. The meeting agenda serves as a schedule of talking points. Don't cram too many things onto the agenda. The agenda should clearly state the start time and the location of the meeting and list out topics in the order they'll be discussed.

    Start by asking for any additional comments or updates about the previous meeting's agenda. Then, dive into the new topics. Leave time at the end for additional topics. State an end time on the agenda. Note that it's your job, as the person presiding over the meeting, to keep everyone on task so the meeting can end on time. Finally, email the agenda out to attendees a couple of days in advance in order to give them time to prepare for the meeting.

  • Arrive early and prepare the meeting space. Get to the meeting location about 15 minutes early in order to set up any technology for a presentation or to just ensure that the room is unlocked, clean and ready to go. If you're supplying food, set it up. If you need extra chairs, go get them. You don't want to waste people's time by being late and unprepared. As people arrive, give them a printed copy of the meeting agenda. 

Your Role During the Meeting

Now that you've gathered everyone in the same room, it's time to get started. Start the meeting on time, even if everyone is chatting among themselves or a couple people are late. Get everyone's attention and say a few words of welcome. Introduce anyone in the meeting who isn't known by the other attendees.

Ask if anyone has additional comments to make about anything discussed in a previous meeting or go ahead and give updates that have arisen since. Keep these comments brief because they're not the heart of the meeting.

Begin the Discussion

Then, begin the first item of discussion. If you're simply sharing information, stop periodically and ask if there are any questions so far. Don't rush ahead. Pause long enough to give people time to jump in and say something.

Otherwise, if you're getting project updates, other people will be doing much of the talking. But, you need to stay on your toes and ask questions to make sure you (and everyone else in the room) get the full picture. If a full-blown debate breaks out, it's your job to make sure everyone is heard and that the discussion remains productive.

Guide the Discussion

If you're conducting a brainstorming session, you might need to guide the discussion to keep it on track. It's easy for people to lose sight of the goal. Encourage creativity but try to keep people focused.

When it's time to wrap up the meeting, review any action items that were mentioned during the meeting. Remind Laura that she needs to do research on a particular topic or remind Bob that he needs to create a new form for the front desk. Whatever was decided, make sure that everyone leaves the meeting knowing what they need to do before the next meeting.

Tips for Success: Notes and Timekeeping 

Have someone else take notes. It's OK to ask someone to come to the meeting purely to take notes. Otherwise, it's difficult to talk and take notes at the same time, but meeting notes are very useful for later. In fact, they should be written up and distributed to the attendees as soon after the meeting as possible as a reference.

Keep an eye on the time. When you create the agenda, estimate how long to dedicate to each topic. If you only have 15 minutes to devote to a discussion or brainstorming session, start to wrap it up about 13 minutes in. Let people know that you're moving on by saying something like, "Let's get a few last comments in before we move on to item two. We can always put this back on the agenda for next time if needed."

These short spurts of time keep everyone on task and focused and encourage them to think of things to say before the meeting even starts. Encourage them to write down additional comments and either email them to you or bring them up at the next meeting.

Basic Meeting Procedures for Phone and Internet 

These days, remote work is more common, and so are meetings that happen over the phone or on the internet via webcam. It's possible to still hold a productive meeting virtually, with a few small changes.

First, unless you're using a webcam, you can't pick up on everyone's body language. If someone is confused or clearly has something to say, you won't pick up on their physical cues. It's also sometimes difficult to know who's speaking in large groups, especially to newcomers.

Some dedicated online meeting applications offer solutions to these problems, allowing users to click a button to alert the meeting manager that they have a question, for example. This allows them to finish speaking and then open the floor to that attendee. Meeting hosts also typically can "mute all," which helps to cut over any hectic discussion to bring everyone's focus back to the topic at hand.

Give Everyone an Opportunity to Share News

Otherwise, one way you can conduct phone meetings is to give everyone an opportunity to share updates and news before beginning any general discussion. If you know someone has the expertise or experience to chime in but they're remaining silent, don't be afraid to specifically ask for their opinion.

Have Attendees Introduce Themselves

Finally, in order to identify speakers on the phone, it's helpful for attendees to say, "This is so-and-so" before they begin speaking.

The Board Room: Where Meetings Get More Complicated

So far, we've discussed general business meetings. Board meetings are a specific type of business meeting. Not all businesses have a board of directors, but those that do are required to draft a set of bylaws that govern who serves on the board and how the meetings are run. These official meeting procedures are intended to help protect the company shareholders and provide transparency.

Robert's Rules of Order

Robert's Rules of Order represent the cream of the crop in terms of board meeting practices. When you want to be up to snuff in every way possible, follow Robert's Rules for the presiding officer (usually the board president), right down to nitty-gritty details like standing in order to say certain things, such as putting a question to vote.

If this ritual matches the vision you have in mind for your board meetings, you can't go wrong by studying Robert's Rules of Order. But, remember that every corporation's board gets to write and vote upon its own bylaws during the board's initial formation. If Robert's Rules seem way too stiff and informal for your company's culture, you can create your own methodology for running meetings and voting on items.

Basic Meeting Procedures for Board Meetings

A basic rundown of presiding over a meeting according to Robert's Rules is as follows:

  • Ensuring there are enough members present to hold a meeting. Called a quorum, this minimum number of members required for a vote is dictated by your bylaws. Consider postponing the meeting if the quorum isn't fulfilled. 
  • Calling the meeting to order. This is an official declaration that the meeting has begun. Time to get to work! This is also when "the record" begins because the secretary begins taking meeting minutes at this time.
  • Making announcements regarding new board members, visitors to the meeting or retiring board members. The presiding officer may also read out apologies from absent board members during this time. 
  • Confirmation of the previous meeting's minutes. The secretary writes and distributes the meeting minutes after each meeting. It's the members' responsibility to read these minutes and bring any objections regarding their validity to the next meeting. 
  • Following the agenda items. Agendas usually list informative items first and save discussion items for last. It's the presiding officer's responsibility to announce when each new item is to be discussed. It also falls under this officer's duties to moderate the discussions and keep them civil and on track, without members interrupting each other. Following Robert's Rules, members can present motions or vote. The presiding officer ensures that these motions and votes are conducted in a manner that agrees with the bylaws.
  • Opening the floor to other items. At the very end of the meeting, the presiding officer allows any member to bring forth news or questions. Discussion is reserved for another meeting. 
  • Closing the meeting. The presiding officer will say a few words to officially close the meeting and dismiss the members. 

Whether you're presiding over an everyday business meeting or a board meeting, the attendees will appreciate that you value their time and keep the meeting on track and meaningful. Having an agenda and a plan for every meeting is key.