6 Simple Ways To Lead Productive (And Shorter) Business Meetings

Leading productive (and short) meetings is a goal most people aim for, yet they don't just happen.

Photo: Jayne Donnelly, founder and CEO of Altus Effect; Source: Tina Boling Photography
Photo: Jayne Donnelly, founder and CEO of Altus Effect; Source: Tina Boling Photography

As a business owner you’ll be responsible to hold your fair share of meetings. Along those lines, you probably desire for them to be an effective, productive experience.

However, business meetings often take on a life of their own — resulting in a less than productive event leaving participants and the organizer frustrated.

Show of hands: Have you been in a meeting with no agenda, unclear objectives, no follow-up goals and worst of all, it was a complete and utter time suck?

Leading productive (and short) meetings is a goal most people aim for, yet they don’t just happen.

The best meetings are led by a good leader, but they also need active participants. And this happens through training. But how do you train your attendees to be effective participants?

It’s about stealth training that happens automatically with little thought behind it.


Get your meetings back on track

We all teach others how to treat us and what we expect of them. We teach by example, setting clear boundaries, and by mutual respect. With a little bit of intention you can train your meeting attendees to be part of a well-oiled, finely tuned, meeting machine!

And, as a result you increase your meeting productivity; participants feel happier, more motivated and respected, and everyone saves their most important resource — time.

Here’s a look at ground rules that will get your meetings back on track.

It is important to have a set of clear and solid ground rules that apply to all meetings. Hold to them and you will:


  • stay on schedule

  • avoid tangents and rabbit holes

  • achieve results

  • create clear and specific objectives

  • engender respect for yourself and others


Ultimately you need to create your own set of best practices, but there are a few tips that should always be included.


1. Set a timer

The goal is to start and finish on time. Make it clear ahead of time that your meeting begins and ends at a specific time. Make it clear that you won’t be starting over; and if someone is late they will have to follow up on their own.

Ending on time is just as important; wrap it up and close the meeting at a designated time. This sets a clear boundary that clearly communicates your intention to get things done during the allotted time. It indicates that you respect your time and that of your attendees.


2. Create a clear agenda

It’s best to share your agenda prior to the meeting. The goal is to set clear expectations. Schedule specific time for each topic and make sure to allot time for questions and clarification.

If it becomes obvious that you don’t have enough time to cover all of the agenda items, have a plan to address it by delegating specific tasks.


3. Be prepared

One of the worst things you can do is show up for your own meeting being unprepared. 

If the meeting is called to share ideas, make sure your team is prepared to bring their ideas to the table. If it is a status meeting, everyone should have their progress update ready.

Meetings aren’t the time to educate people on what they should have already done on their own. Be prepared to adjourn a meeting if your team comes unprepared; make sure everyone knows what is expected and reschedule.


4. Stay on topic

This can sometimes be hard, but it’s a skill that can be honed. Take notes as other items come up and keep them for future discussions. Lead the meeting along with the right feedback. For example:


  • “That’s a great thought, we should talk about it more at another time.”

  • “Great point. I want to hear more about this, let’s talk about it offline so we stay on schedule.”


5. Know your role

As the leader of the meeting you are either running, moderating, or facilitating it. Roughly, these roles are characterized as follows:


  • Running: You’re in charge of steering the group from point to point through an agenda; often driving the conversation and inserting your own perspective.

  • Moderating: Your focused on keeping the information and communication flow clear and accessible to all who participate, at all times. A moderator is an information manager and is often somewhat invisible to participants.

  • Facilitating: You are guiding your team through an experience, relying on their impartiality to encourage an equal exchange of information and to hear a balance of voices around the room.


6. Standardize the meeting format

Structure all of your meetings in the same way so attendees know what to expect. This creates stability, trust, and safety for participants. Your agenda preparation is a great way to do this.

For example:


  • Welcome all of the participants.

  • Indicate the amount of time you have and the time you will finish.

  • State the agenda items (high-level points).

  • Go through each agenda item.

  • Restate the item including the goals and expectations for the topic.

  • Define and assign follow up tasks.

  • Open the room for Q & A

  • Thank everyone.

  • Adjourn and set the next meeting time.


A well-structured meeting creates trust, saves time, and is productive. Remember, as the leader you are in charge and in control. Lead with attention and intention.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Jayne Donnelly is the founder and CEO of Altus Effect, an international business and life coaching practice that provides entrepreneurs, executives, and startups, extraordinary transformation in leadership, management, and business ownership. Connect with @altuseffect on Twitter.


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