Have you ever looked around a meeting room to see participants on their phones, daydreaming, or even asleep? As a meeting facilitator, it’s easy to become frustrated with uninterested attendees. However, their lack of attention could be a symptom of a meeting preparation mishap. The good news is that meetings can be productive—so long as they are held for the right reasons, with the right people, at the right time.

Preparation is Key

Over the years, we have been approached by many practice owners and managers looking for help with meeting facilitation. We frequently hear questions such as: “Do I need to have staff meetings?” and “If I have a meeting, what should I talk about?” We understand leading meetings can be daunting and complex; however, using proper facilitation techniques ensures attendees walk out feeling engaged and productive. This article will provide a roadmap for planning more effective meetings that will benefit the practice.

Identify the purpose. When considering scheduling a meeting, begin by determining your desired outcome. Once you’ve identified what you hope to accomplish, you can discern if a meeting is necessary and map out next steps. For example, if there is an organizational policy update that needs to be communicated, an email will likely suffice. However, if your goal is to garner feedback or come to an agreed-upon solution, a meeting with key voices and decision-makers would be beneficial.

Determine who needs to be there. If a meeting is needed, identify whose presence is necessary to achieve your purpose. Over the years, we have been in many meetings where a key decision-maker was not in the room; as a result, decisions could not be made. Scenarios like this lead to frustrated attendees and wasted time. To host a meeting that accomplishes your goals, consider including the following attendees:

  • Decision-makers. If the individual(s) responsible for making the required decisions can’t attend, do not hold the meeting. It can frustrate those who showed up the first time around to spend more time bringing others up to speed. Instead, wait to schedule the meeting at a time that is conducive to everyone’s schedule.
  • Stakeholders/key voices. Who will feel the impact of the decisions and outcomes of the meeting? Is this a time for those voices to be heard? For example, if the purpose of a meeting is to develop a new process for scheduling appointments, you will want input from the staff who do the scheduling, as well as the technicians and providers who see those patients. Knowing this, you should invite these key players and allocate time on the agenda to garner their input.
  • Facilitator. Designate someone to walk meeting attendees through each agenda item in a timely fashion with the end goal in mind. This may or may not be the person responsible for creating the meeting. The facilitator should have currency with meeting attendees, understand the meeting’s purpose, and possess a historical perspective. Additionally, it is the facilitator’s responsibility to set the atmosphere, guide the conversation, and ensure the meeting provides a safe place for effective discussion. If someone is dominating the conversation, a good facilitator has the skills to redirect the discussion and maintain balance.
  • Secretary/notetaker. It is a best practice for someone to take notes that can be referred to after the meeting. These notes should provide an account of the meeting, action items, and agreed-upon decisions. This record can help in confirming who needs to do what and determining the progress made toward meeting aims. We advise the meeting secretary to take notes on paper (rather than a laptop or personal device) to ensure they are not mistaken for an unrelated business communication by meeting participants.
  • Timekeeper. The timekeeper’s goal is simply that—ensuring the meeting stays on time and on track. Everyone loves a meeting that starts on time and ends on (or ahead of) schedule. A timekeeper can help the meeting facilitator run a focused, punctual meeting. Time-conscious and abiding facilitators establish a reputation as creditable, organized individuals who hold meetings that are worthwhile.

Create an agenda and provide it to all attendees PRIOR to the meeting. Once you decide who needs to attend the meeting, provide each person with a copy of the agenda in advance. This gives participants time to prepare and allows for feedback prior to the meeting. The agenda also serves as a useful meeting guide for the timekeeper, secretary, and participants. When creating an agenda, consider the following:

  • Providing context. Include background information/related resources on listed agenda topics when possible/necessary. This will give attendees time to review useful information in advance, so they can arrive informed and ready to contribute meaningfully to the meeting discussion.
  • Producing a template. If a meeting is recurring, such as a weekly staff huddle, save time by creating a template. This will prevent you from having to repeatedly craft the agenda from scratch and instead allow you to utilize the main components already in place. To customize each meeting agenda, ask attendees to offer topics of discussion. This will foster meeting ownership and buy-in from attendees.

Schedule and prepare your meeting space. The gathering spot sets the tone for the meeting and creates a first (and lasting) impression. Therefore, it is important to vet the meeting space to make sure it can meet your needs. Is it large enough to accommodate the attendee list? Is it conducive to the scheduled meeting tasks?

Consider your end goals when selecting a meeting location. Below are a few other aspects to keep in mind.

  • Onsite v. offsite meetings. Onsite meetings are great for recurring get-togethers like office huddles, as they can be held quickly with the majority of attendees already onsite. Meanwhile, offsite meetings are effective for discussing sensitive topics, teambuilding exercises, and catering to a large group.
  • Technological needs. Nothing can zap a meeting’s productivity faster than technological issues. Therefore, be sure your meeting location can support your audio-visual requirements and remote-attendance needs. To ensure the meeting runs smoothly, get to the meeting venue ahead of your attendees to ensure that all technological needs are available, functional, and set up for use.

Measuring Success

Meetings are powerful, effective tools when done right. As a meeting facilitator, you have to the ability to ensure participants don’t leave meetings in a daze, wondering, “Why did we have that meeting?” Though many of the above tips may seem basic, their consistent implementation can improve the value of your meetings—both to attendees and the practice itself. In the long run, this will create measurable practice success.