Meeting at a bar
Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images
By Diane Hoskins
June 21, 2017

The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer to the question, “What advice would you give to someone leading a meeting for the first time?” is written by Diane Hoskins, Co-CEO at Gensler.

I remember my first business meeting; it was life-changing. I was a young architect having just graduated from college and was working for a major architecture firm in Chicago. We all dressed our best—no jeans and T-shirts. My boss presented our ideas to the client for the first time, and they nailed it. The energy in the room was palpable and we had a great discussion.

The meeting was so successful because it had a clear purpose, our presentation was on point, and the discussion was well-curated. I’ve tried to follow those principles in the meetings I’ve led ever since. Here are three ways you can do the same if you’re leading a meeting for the first time:

Be prepared

The number one rule for leading a meeting is to be prepared. No one should be asking, “Why are we here?” Being prepared means having a clear agenda and bringing any materials or documents that are important for the discussion. It also means understanding all the information necessary. If you are proposing an idea, perhaps offer options. Send thought starters or read-aheads that get people’s ideas flowing. But don’t overload them with too much material, or they won’t show up for the meeting!

Be inclusive

Who you invite to the meeting is critical. Invite different types of people to bring alternate points of view into the discussion. Facilitate the discussion to ensure that everyone is able to offer ideas. You want wide engagement, because you never know where the greatest ideas are going to come from. No one should be afraid to speak up.

Another part of creating a positive environment is how you handle conflict and criticism. Manage the room and don’t let negativity get out of control. Create a “parking lot” list of items that are unresolved from the meeting and assure everyone that those issues will be delegated appropriately afterward.

Set the stage

It’s crucial that you choose the right venue. Ask yourself if it’s a formal meeting in which you need a conference table with chairs around it, or a casual one with informal soft seating around a coffee table. These decisions should be based on the purpose and agenda of the meeting.

Meetings in unexpected venues like bars or rooftop gardens are great for hosting brainstorming sessions or announcing new projects. Also, refreshments like coffee and snacks can help relax participants and enhance the experience for everyone involved. You can even design your meeting as a journey through your office space. Move from the reception area to the final venue with stopping points along the way. At each of these, pause and discuss various topics with your team.

If you follow these steps, you can make your meeting a memorable and impactful experience. If done well, meetings can change you and your organization. You can even change the world if your topic is important enough. So it’s worth taking the time to make your meetings the best they can be.

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