The Fortune 500 Insiders Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Today’s answer to the question, “What are some tips for leading your first meeting?” is written by Scott Lindquist, chief financial officer of Farmers Insurance.
Running a meeting is no easy task. It requires ample planning, effective moderation, and a combination of discipline and flexibility. Meeting leaders want to keep everyone on track and achieve a set objective, usually within an hour or less.
Yet, most of us receive little to no formal training in the art of running meetings, forcing us instead to wing it or learn on the go. This explains why so many workers find themselves sitting in meetings all day, often accomplishing very little. But whether you’re a meeting veteran or newcomer, there are steps you can take to get more out of the meetings you run. I’ve found that these eight tips can help significantly:
Have a clear objective
Before you even schedule a meeting, ask yourself what the meeting needs to accomplish and whether it even needs to be held. Some matters are better handled via email or one-on-one chats, saving everyone extra time.
Invite the right people
The more people in a meeting, the more chances there are for things to go off track. When you invite high-level stakeholders, ask them if there’s anyone else who should be there to accomplish the objective at hand. Also, remember that meetings can be effective tools in helping develop up-and-coming talent. The key is balance.
For example, budget review meetings are helpful for more entry-level employees because they can watch and participate in the back-and-forth discussion at an executive level. This is invaluable experience in gaining exposure to upper management, and can help them develop negotiating skills.
Budget your time
It may seem obvious, but creating an agenda before the meeting can help you break its objective into steps and ensure you’re not packing too much into one sitting. If the meeting will be a long one, make sure you’ve built in time for breaks.
Use a ‘parking lot’
Inevitably, important items will come up during the meeting that don’t relate to its main objective. To stay focused on the task at hand, tell attendees that those items will be noted and set aside in a “parking lot” for future discussion.
Set your meeting for a time when attendees are more likely to be focused and productive. Monday mornings, when people are getting their week started, and Friday afternoons, when people are wrapping things up, are usually not ideal. Lunch meetings can work, but make sure to provide food that’s suitable to those attendance.
Check your tech
Before the meeting, make sure the details are covered: Check if the conference room phone and projector are working, cue up your slideshow, and test the webinar service. You don’t want to waste the first few minutes on IT problems. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced communication technology issues in meetings all too often, which can quickly throw off the productivity of the discussion.
It’s important to keep the meeting moving along while also treating all attendees’ views and ideas with respect. Not everyone will see eye-to-eye, especially on contentious matters. If a particular meeting will be challenging or last for a long period of time—say, a multi-day off-site meeting—consider hiring a facilitator to serve as a neutral party. An in-person meeting with staff you may not usually all have in one room is a perfect opportunity to foster an environment where diverse views are heard.
Wrap up the meeting by reiterating important decisions that were made and outlining next steps. Send a follow-up email assigning action items based on the meeting’s outcome. A pre-established feedback mechanism following the meeting will ensure that your tasks get done. Know who you want to follow up with, how, and on what time schedule—and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to seem like a nag by following up to get answers.
These tasks may seem like they take a lot of time, but in the long run, they should actually save you and the people attending your meetings valuable hours. When meetings are well-structured and well-managed, there’s a greater likelihood that they’ll accomplish what they set out to do.