The key to facilitating a meeting is to figure out how best to get and keep the right people in their seats so that they can facilitate a productive, effective meeting and get and give the information they need, and get the decisions made that need making. But how? Try these three concepts – some are fast, some take time…
Delivery a concise agenda in advance. Sure, it’s easy to call a meeting via email or a meeting invite with a short description and hope people show up just because you said they should. Guess what? If that’s all you do, then there is no real reason for them to show up. Some will say they didn’t get or see the invite buried in their calendar or in the “hundreds of emails they get everyday.” Trust me…they saw it, they just chose to ignore it. Avoid this by putting out a detailed meeting agenda in advance (a day, not one hour) for every meeting you call. Period. Make it four to six bullet points long – not twenty. If you’re smart, you’ll include the latest up-to-date status report along with it so everyone can review project status prior to the meeting. At least they won’t have the opportunity to say they didn’t have the information. By showing them what is being discussed and what should be accomplished, they will better understand how the meeting affects them and they will likely see why they should be in attendance. For a little good measure, visibly include some higher-ups on the distribution list as non-attendee recipients so that these invitees will feel a little more compelled to attend rather than skip.
Have a clear direction. Want to accomplish something specific? Make sure that is clear to everyone and make sure everyone who you invite is important to that goal and that they care about that goal. Not all project team members and project stakeholders need to be at every meeting. In fact, if you avoid trying to force everyone to attend every meeting you’ll increase each meeting’s attendance level and you’ll accomplish more. The more people you bring to the meeting, the more likely things that were not originally intended to be discussed will be discussed.
Don’t hold meetings just to hold meetings. I’m a proponent of not canceling those very important weekly placeholder meetings. People are used to attending and they understand the small group setting and weekly touch point with the project client. If there is nothing to say in one of these, still conduct it – just do it in 15 minutes or less with a quick check around the room for any changes or concerns from anyone and then adjourn. But don’t hold people there for an hour to discuss something way off topic because you can. Likewise, don’t call meetings that don’t really have a purpose. You’ll lose all credibility you may have gained as a meeting facilitator if you start to do this. And, yes, your attendance at ALL of your meetings will start to dip…much to your frustration. And getting that attendance and cooperation back is hard to do once you’ve gained a reputation as a bad meeting facilitator. It will stay with you long after you’ve resolved it.
Summary / call for input
Getting people to your meeting and making it productive and effective is not easy. It can be frustrating when you start a meeting and the key players are either not there or a few of them show up late and slowly coming in grudgingly. I say, stick to these three key principles and you'll gain the reputation as a good meeting planner and facilitator and you will eventually get to the effective meetings and high attendance figures you need and desire.
Readers...do you agree with this list? What would add to it or change about it?