How to Run an Effective Meeting so you Don't Hear "This could have been an email!"

Image Credit | Fauxels | Pexels

We have all been part of a meeting where we were bored to tears. We struggled to understand both why we were in the meeting and what the point of the meeting was. After these meetings it's not uncommon to hear someone say, that whole meeting could have been an email. How did the meeting go so wrong and how could it have been effective?

The good news is that meetings can be effective and valuable. If you are able to walk out of a meeting with understanding why you were there, how you added value and what the next steps are, you were in a successful meeting. The key is to manage the meeting itself in such a way that encourages interaction and engagement while shepherding the participants toward the meeting goals. 

Based on my experience, most meetings are run with a goal in mind, but not often stated. They lack efficiency and tend to meander off topic quickly. They run over time and often include people as part of the meeting that don't need to be there. Many times they end without a clear understanding of what the next steps are. We can fix all of that. Here are the tips that I've learned to run effective meetings. 

Is a meeting even the right format?

Maybe not. We've all been in a meeting where we've thought afterwards that the meeting could have been an email. I've spent multiple days in meetings where I thought I could have read a 15 minute article that would have had the same effect. Think through what you are working to accomplish. If it is strictly communicating information, then a meeting is not the right format. Only schedule a meeting if it requires interactivity and participation from the meeting members to achieve your end goals. If the meeting is likely to be more of a communication of information consider instead sending an email with the relevant information and then checking for understanding. 

Clear goals

I'm a big fan of setting clear goals for teams. The same principle is important for meetings. When you are thinking about setting a meeting, what is the goal of that meeting? What are you trying to achieve? You should have a clearly defined outcome that needs to be achieved as part of the meeting. Whether it is to decide on a course of action, to discuss needed changes to performance or to train others, that needs to be clearly defined prior to the scheduling of the meeting. Participants should also know what the purpose of the meeting is at the time it is scheduled.

The right people

Speaking of participants, be sure to invite the right people to your meeting. Have you ever sat in a meeting wondering why you were invited? That's inefficient for both the meeting organizer and the participants. As you think through your meeting goals, think through who needs to be present to achieve those goals. Ask yourself what value those individuals can provide before inviting them. Once you've identified who can add value to the meeting, invite them and only them. Ensure that when you invite them and communicate the meeting goals, that you also communicate what the expected value of their contribution will be. 

Stay on time

Many meetings are inefficient. They often start late with the organizer saying something like "Let's give folks a few more minutes to join" and then end with "Sorry, we are running late, we have just a few more important things to cover".  Inside the folks that were there on time and groaning with frustration as they want to get back to working on what is important to them. As the meeting organizer it is your job to be prepared and ready to start your meeting on time. If some of the participants are late, you should still start on time out of respect for those that were ready. You should also end your meeting when you said it would end. If you were unable to achieve all of your goals during this time, schedule a follow-up meeting, do not ask people to say longer.

Manage the meeting

Many times it's easy for meetings to go off track. You start with a clear goal, but someone makes a comment about an unrelated topic and the entire meeting group begins discussing that. Before long, half of the meeting has been spent on the unrelated topic and you're risking running well over time or needing to schedule another meeting. As the organizer it's your responsibility to manage the meeting from start to finish. Unrelated topics may be brought up, and if that happens ensure that you acknowledge it and let them know you can discuss it later, but you need to achieve your core meeting goals. Then immediately return to the discussion that drives completion of those core goals. 


If you've scheduled a meeting that should be a meeting, it has clear goals and you've invited only those who can add value, you should have good engagement during your meeting. Even though you should have good engagement, some people are naturally more reserved. Draw them into the conversation by asking questions directly in areas where they will add value. "Hey Sally, what do you think about Judy's idea?".  This helps to break the ice for people that are hesitant to speak up, while allowing them to effectively add the value that they were invited to the meeting for in the first place.

End with clear action

Your meeting participants should walk away feeling accomplished. They should have understood what the goal of the meeting was, why they were invited and how they were able to add value. They should also understand what the next steps are. Whether they are taking that action or someone else is, each meeting participant should be able to recap the overall meeting and who is doing what next. This ensures that the meeting not only met its goals, but it had value in driving forward the goals of the organization. As the meeting organizer it's also your role to put together meeting notes and send them out to the group afterwards. There may have been key details or insights that went overlooked by some of the participants. This is your opportunity to reinforce those as well as the next steps in writing. 

With these steps you should be able to move from meetings where people are only half paying attention to meetings where people are fully engaged. Your meetings will be effective, efficient and valuable. Have you ever been in a meeting that could have been an email? What about really effective meetings? What was the difference to you? I want to hear about it! Tell me below or contact me!