Most meetings fall into one of four categories:
Report- and information-oriented.
Decision-making and problem-solving.
Creative and brainstorming.
Training and skill-building.
You need to decide which type your meeting will be at the outset. If you can choose the format, consider what you want your audience to come away with. If you have to operate within a set format, you can still shape the outcome by knowing the ins and outs of each meeting type.
Report- and Information-oriented. This kind of meeting requires the most advance preparation. Leadership is very important, because these meetings easily become boring and tend to be filled with too much information. If more than one person will be speaking, try to review the other presentations beforehand, to see if they can be pared down. This preplanning will reflect well on you. Some conferences that overload on information use small discussion groups, which allow people time to digest and sort out information.
The most formally structured of the four types, report- and information-oriented meetings give you plenty of opportunity to shine with an interesting opening, a lively introduction for each speaker, smooth transitions that carry the theme throughout the meeting, and a strong conclusion. What you say and how you say it can leave people thinking they just attended a very well-constructed meeting.
If you are giving a report at one of these meetings rather than leading it, all the rules of persuasive presentations apply. Your report is your chance to stand out from the others. Make it a memorable one.
Decision-making and Problem-solving. These meetings are tricky because all their aspects demand a display of leadership from the chairperson: where people are sitting, who gets the floor, how long the meeting lasts, and so on. You should make succinct summaries of progress during the meeting. Don't let people get off track, and watch the time carefully.
Stick to the agenda, which should be clear-cut so people can do valuable thinking beforehand. But don't make the agenda so clear-cut that people are locked into a decision before the meeting even begins. You don't want people coming in with their minds made up. I've experimented with my training sessions; when I ask people to make individual decisions before a meeting, they take twice as long to come up with a consensus as when they arrive with an open mind.
Because this is a "results" meeting, the challenge to you is to move things along and get the group to make the decision or solve the problem. If you can reach that successful point, the results can reflect very well on you.
Creative and Brainstorming. These meetings tend to be free-flowing and minimize your leadership role. But you can still exercise leadership by establishing the right atmosphere—one in which people feel free to come up with new slogans, ways to save money, and so on. Try to be nonjudgmental. I once sat in on a meeting where management wanted to brainstorm ideas for cutting down on staff errors. The first person brave enough to speak up said the company used too many different temporary workers, who weren't familiar with procedures and never had a chance to learn how to do things right. The executive running the meeting cut the staff member off and said aloud, "You are absolutely wrong." Needless to say, no one else contributed after that.
These meetings work best if everyone has a high level of energy. Avoid scheduling them after lunch.
Training and Skill-building. Really prepare for these meetings in advance. You'll need to make them long enough so that people will be able to really get involved. Save time for the practicing that the members of your audience will need to reinforce what they are learning.
In these meetings, you're really more of a facilitator, so let other people get actively involved. Your audience will learn by doing, not by just viewing and listening. The more they are involved—the more questions they ask and the more give-and-take there is—the better your reputation will be. These gatherings also give you lots of room for powerful summing up; don't be afraid to shine as you impart your final words.
In all four types of meetings, keep the continued attention of your audience by bridging all your topics with transitions and by summarizing frequently.
Here are guidelines for running successful group meetings:
Start on time.
State the meeting's purpose clearly.
Use a title and try to make it—and the meeting—interesting. (Call a presentation designed to train people how to fill out new forms "Don't Be Written Off, Write It Down" instead of "Filling Out This Year's Forms.")
Keep the meeting going; guide it along.
Remain impartial if people start to bicker with each other. Stress cooperation, not conflict. But if real conflict erupts, bring it out into the open, especially during decision-making and problem-solving meetings.
Don't play favorites.
Use humor where you can.
If someone starts to dominate, it's your responsibility to bring that person under control.
Ask direct questions if you need to. Make them clear and non-threatening and record the answers.
Have the person taking minutes read back what people have agreed to do. Discuss decisions, acknowledge differences or problems that surfaced, and sum up what will be done in the future. This person should be an active part of the group, not a secretary.
Wind up with a motivational conclusion. This is your chance to show your style and to tie everything together. Don't let people run off early.
End on time.