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Planning Interactive Meetings

A meeting leader may be a manager, a supervisor, an employee, or a number of other people; however, the responsibilities for planning meetings are the same. These are: preparing the agenda, considering logistics, selecting attendees, and calculating meeting costs. It may help simply to take a sheet of paper and write down what the meeting will be like: What kind of meeting you want, who should be invited, when it should be scheduled, where it will take place, what issues will surface, what decisions need to be made, what information you need to lead the meeting, what written materials will be needed, what audiovisual aids will work best—everything you can think of at this point.

CREATING AN AGENDA FOR EVERY MEETING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP IN ENSURING SUCCESSFUL MEETINGS. Plus it's a natural offshoot of the page of notes you just wrote. Why use an agenda? It draws a big picture of the meeting and serves to focus thoughts and discussion on the purpose of your meeting. It also details the assignments for meeting participants and lets them know how to prepare for the meeting, since leaders circulate the agenda at least two days ahead of the actual meeting. At a glance, participants will know the purpose of the meeting, the time, location, what they should bring or do for the meeting, who will be there, and how the meeting will be conducted. You've already written the meeting objective as specifically as you can. The next step is to set up the when, where, what, and who of the meeting.

When

The choice of meeting time depends on the purpose of your meeting, the availability of key people and facilities, and how long you think the meeting will take. If you've planned a two-hour meeting, you wouldn't start it at 11:00, since lunchtime would interfere. Speaking of lunchtime, consider whether you want to combine a meeting with a meal. There are pros and cons on both sides of this issue. Having meals and meetings combined emphasizes sociability and networking, but may distract people from the purpose of the meeting, especially evening meals.

Sharing food is a way of building bonds between people, though. You might consider having special treats at group meetings—doughnuts or bagels in the morning, cookies or crackers and cheese in the afternoon. Coffee, tea, juice, and sodas are also welcome. Breakfast meetings work for some, since you catch people before they go to their jobs, and meetings tend to be short and productive.

It's best to avoid scheduling meetings on holidays, long weekends, or the beginning or end of the week. Morning meetings summon longer attention spans for some; as the day progresses and tasks mount up to distract people, their patience and willingness to contribute wears thin. Sales meetings might be held early in the morning to hand out assignments and point out daily or weekly goals. If you do schedule morning meetings, give employees a chance to get settled before gathering up for your meeting.

Line workers and staff connected with them usually have meetings before or after their shift hours. Employees who have contacts with customers will want to be free when customers are likely to call or visit. If no compensation is provided for job-related meetings, employees will probably resent returning in the evenings or on days off for meetings.

Where

Sometimes you have no choice; you have meetings in whatever size room will accommodate the number of participants you have. If people are seated for a long period of time, you should arrange for comfortable chairs. You should eliminate distractions such as phone calls, foot traffic, and interruptions in whatever form they arrive. A conference table is desirable for group discussions. Try for as much eye contact as possible between participants, whatever seating arrangements you have. Set up a circle or a horseshoe arrangement for maximum interaction. Moveable chairs also work for small break-out groups as well. Other seating arrangements are:

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What

A major objective in meeting preparation is to gather as much information as you can and consider the implications of the information. Especially if the subject of your meeting is controversial as well as important, you should contact participants before the actual meeting. Anticipate what questions you think you'll get and find answers to those questions. The contacts you make will help you anticipate areas of agreement and disagreement during your actual meeting. As you talk with people, solicit their personal views on your topic. If they have "hidden agendas," you can be prepared to counteract their tactics. If enough data exists prior to the meeting, create handouts and send them to participants with a request to read them before the meeting. As we've already said, send out your agenda in advance to clarify the meeting purpose. Again, your agenda needs an objective, a notice of the time/date/location of the meeting, a list of attendees, and discussion items.

Who

The right number of people and the right people at your meeting are crucial elements in the success of meetings. More people attending means increased meeting costs, longer discussion times, and less opportunity for participation. If large groups are inevitable, try break-out groups to maximize participation. Limit your agenda items for large groups.

A good rule of thumb in selecting attendees is including those who can be directly helpful in carrying out the objective of the meeting. If you are making major decisions, include someone directly affected by the changes you are considering. Consider who has the power to make decisions and who will implement them. Select attendees who support your objective, who oppose it, and the undecided. Finally, consider people it is politically expedient to invite, those who might cause trouble if you didn't invite them, as well as those you're obliged to invite for any number of reasons. If you can, avoid inviting known meeting disrupters; no one needs long-winded people who disagree with everyone on all the issues. Consider also that some people will consider it a blessing not to be asked to attend. If they are not directly affected by the objective of the meeting, offer to send them a copy of the minutes as a courtesy.

Costs

If you succeed in establishing a more efficient method of conducting meetings, you will have saved time and money!


We've looked at preparing an agenda, considering logistics, and selecting attendees. A final consideration is figuring out the costs of the meeting. If more people figured the actual costs of meeting, fewer of them might be held. To figure time costs, write down the names of all attendees at your meeting and figure their time value. This could be hourly pay or a percentage of their total salary, divided by the number of days each year that they are required to work. Multiply the time value per hour by the length of your meeting to get the cost for each attendee. Then figure preparation time and costs, any handouts or visuals made, room costs, refreshments, transportation, and guest speaker costs. Add all this to find the total meeting cost.

Return on investment of time and money in a meeting depends on the value of the results produced. Well-planned, well-executed meetings should produce better results in shorter time frames and be more cost effective as a result. Figuring the monetary value of results may prove difficult unless you can directly connect a result with a figure from the "bottom line," such as:

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Track savings in the beginning of your stint as a meeting leader and continue to monitor your efficiency and that of your work group. Then DOCUMENT SAVINGS OF TIME AND MONEY—IT'S YOUR TICKET TO

PAY, PRESTIGE, AND PROMOTION!

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