Boss Talk: The Art of Holding a Meeting

Amanda BrunoIf you think 95 percent of running a meeting is showing up, you probably don’t accomplish much in them. Like most things in life, a well-run meeting takes forethought and planning, says Amanda Bruno, an attorney and director of special projects at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Take these tips from women executives—and never let your meetings waste time or reflect poorly on your leadership skills again.


Be Smart about Scheduling

Meeting software programs make scheduling simple. “In my office, Outlook’s scheduling assistant feature saves us a lot of emails and phone calls to determine availability,” Bruno says. Generally, she tries to avoid slating meetings before 9 am or after 5 pm, starting them a little later on Mondays and ending them a half hour earlier on Fridays. Other managers prefer to avoid Monday mornings and Friday afternoons entirely.

Of course, there are exceptions, but most leaders try to keep their regular department meetings to one hour, tops. The consensus: people tend to tune out after that.

Rubino, BethGet Your Goals Down

Writing a one-page agenda or itemized topic list will help you clarify for yourself and for others what you want to accomplish. “For each topic, the goal should be apparent—whether it is to make a final decision, focus on long-range planning or offer a simple update to the group,” says Beth Rubino, executive vice president of human resources and workplace services at QVC. Distributing the agenda to attendees at least 24 hours before the meeting ensures “that each stakeholder is prepared to participate,” she adds.

Bell, EmilyFor an hour-long meeting, limit the number of items on the agenda to four to six items, allotting 10 to 15 minutes for each item. Then put the more important topics first, so you’ll cover what’s most critical when everyone is fresh and alert. New managers think they should build up to the serious matters, but “the human attention span reduces for every ten minutes you’re sitting,” explains Emily Bell, founder and president of After Interactive.

Stay on Point

Sticking to your agenda and time limits will make for an efficient meeting. But it’s not only a matter of your keeping an eye on the clock (or your cell phone). You also need everyone else’s cooperation. The simplest way to get it? Request it. “I ask the team to each take responsibility for keeping the meeting agenda on track and helping to make sure that we are moving from topic to topic in a timely manner,” Rubino says.

People can forget or get caught up in a discussion, though, and cutting a speaker off is what most rookie managers find challenging. When the conversation is constructive but you need to wind it up, “ask the two or three people who are doing most of the talking to continue offline and email everyone an update,” Bruno says. “For a not-so-urgent matter, say that you’ll need to table it until next time so that you can cover everything on the agenda.”

But what to do with ramblers or people who speak for the sake of speaking? “As a leader, it is important to be mindful of different communication and participation styles and to foster productive open dialogue,” says Rubino. “A big part of this is creating an environment that is rooted in respect for others and their ideas.”

Experts agree that you’ll have to interrupt people who are dominating or derailing the meeting, ask them to summarize their point or do it for them and then redirect the discussion. Of course, you should never be rude or make someone look bad in front of his or her colleagues, but how straightforward you are depends on your personality. “I might say, ‘So-and-so, I think you’re saying A, B, C—is that correct?’ and then move on to the next agenda item. Someone with a different style might say, ‘C’mon, we’re going to be here all day. Let’s wrap this up.’” Bruno says. “The key is to be authentic to who you are.”

That’s good advice overall. Be true to yourself and you’ll feel more relaxed and in control—no matter what comes up in your meeting.