How to Manage Meetings Humans Actually Want to Attend 

Do colleagues talk about how well you run your meetings? If not, you’re probably wasting a lot of people’s time (and most importantly, yours). 

Unfortunately, most of us were never taught how to run effective meetings, so most of us are bad meeting hosts. There’s good news, though! Changing a few small habits can help you completely rebrand yourself into the pro meeting host you and your team deserve.

Why is it important to establish “best practices” when planning or attending a meeting?

Let’s zoom out a little. Before digging into how to become a better meeting host, think about the last time you attended a meeting that felt like a waste of time. Can you remember? Why did you feel that way? Were you the right person in the room? Were you given all the prep materials you needed to contribute effectively? Did anyone ask your opinion or did they assume your silence meant you agreed?

As a marketer, I’m trained to center the customer’s experience in everything I do. Ads are pointless if they don’t connect with the person viewing the ad, so I’m constantly asking myself questions like “Will the user care about this?”, “Will they care enough to click?”, etc. My work forces me to remove my own ego and center another human’s pain. If I do it well, ads perform; if I center my ego too much, ads don’t perform.

Surprise! This analogy isn’t really about ads. It’s about meetings. 

By definition, meetings are just space where 2 or more humans come together to achieve a common goal. Time is incredible. She is both infinite and very very finite. There are 40 hours in a work week. There will always be more work weeks, but this one we’re in right now, just 40. Because of this, it’s vital we ensure every meeting minute spent with another human this week is a win for both of us. But how do we set ourselves up for meetings with balanced positive outcomes while leaving room for creativity?

Meeting best practices. Here are 3 of my favorites.

Three tips for running a productive meeting

1. No agenda, no meeting! 

This is one of my favorite tips, especially because it applies to both meeting hosts and attendees. As the host, force yourself to complete the sentence, “The goal of this meeting is to leave feeling/doing…” followed by a bulleted agenda. This informs your requested attendees of their role in the conversation AND gives you pause to ask yourself, “Why am I gathering humans together in this way?” Once I started including goals and agendas in my meetings, I realized they are also an excellent way to kick off the discussion. Once “Hellos” are over (5 minutes max) I say, “Okay everyone, thank you again for joining. The goal of this meeting is to leave feeling/doing…” Boom. Time to talk business, and usually, end early.

For attendees, reading the goal and the agenda before the meeting empowers you to decline the invite if you feel you shouldn’t be involved, suggest another attendee if you’re not the decision-maker, or prepare if you are. How many times have you joined a meeting only to find out your boss is the real decision-maker needed? Even worse, sometimes your boss is also on the call and now you have to sit silently for 30 minutes watching your boss make a decision they could have updated you on in 5 minutes in your next 1:1! Maddening. 

I personally struggle with short-term memory loss due to old brian injuries, so I end every business day preparing for the next day’s meetings. I decline all meetings with missing agendas, ask the host to send me the invitation once they’ve added one, and focus my attention on preparing for the ones that let me know what I’m in for. Since doing this routine, it’s super rare for me to feel I’ve “wasted” my time.

“No agenda, no meeting” is the best way to set everyone up for time well-invested.

2. Use silence.

Silence is one of the most powerful (and forgotten) tools in the meeting host toolkit. Especially if you are hosting a meeting where you hold power, silence can be one of the best ways to draw attention and get people to refocus after a long-winded tangent. Most “air-fillers” are DEEPLY bothered by silence. They worry something is wrong when there is no noise so their brain seeks a quick solution, which is often to “offer” the meeting back to the host. You probably hear this in meetings all the time, “Sorry, Jerry, back to you to kick us off.” 

Silence is a gift. When we are silent, we are forced to listen. As the meeting host, I find being silent allows me to perceive the entire group. While my mouth is silent, my eyes are scanning the room and I’m asking myself, “Am I hearing from the actual decision maker, or just the loudest person in the room? Stacey hasn’t said anything yet and I really want to hear her opinion. I’ll ask her next. Why is George talking so much? Am I talking enough?” All these internal thoughts help me ensure I’m listening to the right information, not just the loudest. 

As an ENFJ and leader on my marketing team, my silence is palpable. If yours is too, I highly recommend using it to actively listen, deflate your next “air-filler,” and get everyone back on track.

3. Stop apologizing for doing your job, thank instead.

Thanking an attendee for their thoughts can be a quick way to signal it’s time to get back on track. As a woman, I am over-conditioned to apologize in these moments. When meetings derailed, I used to say, “Sorry, Susan, but can we get back to the agenda?” But why am I apologizing? Susan is the one who took us off-track. I am a meeting host doing my job directing this meeting. 

Instead, now I say, “Thank you for that, Susan. Ok team, so let’s get back to resolving our first agenda bullet….” This slight adjustment maintains respect for my colleague AND myself. Why should people follow my lead if I’m not respecting myself? 

Don’t give your power away by apologizing for doing your job. Thank and redirect instead.

The best way to close a meeting

Every meeting should end with the Agenda bullet: “Action Items.” 

Example:

The goal of this meeting is to leave feeling/doing…

Agenda:

  • 11am-11:05am: Hellos!
  • 11:05am-11:15am: Topic 1
  • 11:15am-11:25am: Topic 2
  • 11:25am-11:30am: Action items

While we like our colleagues, we are not meeting to become better friends. We are meeting because something needs to get done that we cannot accomplish asynchronously. Closing the final minutes of every meeting agreeing on action items ensures all attendees are aligned on what needs to happen to achieve our goal. 

A trick I like is to click ‘Email guests’ on the meeting calendar invite, copy the agenda over, and take notes right within each bullet! Once we wrap the meeting, I use 2 minutes to review my notes for clarity and push ‘Send’! This makes for super easy note taking AND is a fast way to share the documented next steps everyone agreed to. 

Voilá, action items are now documented in each of your attendee’s email inbox ready to be completed.

Action Items

See what I did there?

Remember, if people aren’t telling you you’re a good meeting host, you still have more to learn

Here are some resources that helped me improve my meeting management—which must be working because I was asked to write this post! I hope they help you, too.

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