How To Conduct A Successful And Effective Business Meeting

The bane of every worker is the meeting that lasts for hours and accomplishes little. Yet, people have identified and implemented ways to make meetings more meaningful for the participants.

The bane of every worker or volunteer is the meeting that lasts for hours and accomplishes little. While some people simply stifle inner groans and tolerate whatever contortions managers, the board, or a committee wants to make, other people have identified and implemented ways to make meetings more meaningful for the participants.

Several talented managers have defined meetings as falling on a scale between rambling and unstructured to focused and structured. The goal of most of these managers is to get their meetings as far over toward the focused and structured as possible. In that vein, an effective meeting might be defined as one that:

-Takes only as much time as is needed to accomplish its goals

-Sticks to the subject

-Meets its objectives or goals

There are several practical tools that anyone chairing a meeting can use to make a meeting more effective. These tools are ones that have been suggested by top-level managers, meeting experts, association resources, and books and articles on the subject. They are intended to be practical resources that can be used immediately to make meetings more effective.


It is nearly impossible to talk about effective meetings without discussing agendas. A properly prepared agenda can have a tremendous influence on the meeting¡¦s outcome. Some agendas are more effective than others. Cyril Houle, author of ¡§Governing Boards¡¨, says that a meeting agenda should be carefully planned: ¡§The items listed should not be merely sketchy notations indicating generally what is to be discussed but should be described at such length that the board will know what to expect. The person responsible for the presentation of each item should be noted, as should the expected length of time for its consideration at the meeting. Due care must be given to keep the agenda of the board meeting from becoming too full. If matters can be handled outside the meeting, they should be.¡¨ (Houle, Governing Boards, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA 1989)

Many managers recommend that the meeting agendas be as detailed as possible. Simply putting down ¡§Treasurer¡¦s Report¡¨ is too vague and allows for too many unexpected issues to be brought up during a meeting.

Another manager suggests listing only committees on the meeting agenda that have something to report. Traditionally, an agenda might list every single committee, which leaves the committee chair feeling that they have to give some sort of report, even if they don¡¦t have anything to say.


Communication between meeting attendees is important. Letting all participants see an agenda before the meeting starts helps them come prepared to each meeting. It gives them a chance to review issues before the meeting begins and even get questions answered outside of the meeting.

Meeting Calendars

A meeting calendar can help a manager running a meeting determine when reports will be given and schedule issues to be discussed. This keeps participants from feeling that every issue must be discussed at every meeting. One manager said he uses the meeting calendar to help impose discipline at meetings. While the manager may not want to forbid anything that is not scheduled, he or she should encourage participants to stick to it.

Controlled Environments

Many managers have found that they can manipulate the meeting¡¦s physical environment to have a positive effect on the efficiency of meetings. Some managers even go so far as to remove all chairs from a meeting room, forcing participants to stand so that the meeting will go faster.

Even those managers that don¡¦t take things to such an extreme note the difference in length and meeting efficiency based on when they are held, where they are held, and the amenities available.

Meeting Procedures

Every meeting must have some sort of procedure by which it is run. General Henry Robert developed meeting procedures in 1876 by adapting the rules followed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Since that time, Robert¡¦s Rules of Order have been generally accepted as an efficient way to run a group meeting.

Some people, though, may resist Robert¡¦s Rules of Order as too stifling or because they inhibit debate. However, when used correctly, Robert¡¦s Rules can do just the opposite. They are ultimately meant to ensure that the majority is able to accomplish its goals while the views of the minority are protected and heard.

A danger to Robert¡¦s Rules of Order is what Edward Scannell, director of the University Conference Bureau of Arizona State University and past president of Meeting Planners International, calls ¡§motion sickness.¡¨ He points out that not all items require motions. If participants can agree to something quickly, then they should do so and save the procedures for when they are needed.

Consent Agendas

For every item opened for discussion, someone will feel obligated to say something. However, not all items that come before a group need to be discussed. There are always routine actions that must be voted upon due to tradition, bylaws, or policies. These might include contract renewals, ceremonial decrees, setting meeting times, etc. One way to reduce the amount of time spent on these routine items is for the chairperson to develop a consent agenda.

The consent agenda is given to all participants before the meeting. When the meeting starts, any participant can request that an item be removed from the consent agenda and opened for general discussion. All other items are voted on together, without further discussion.

It is important to note that the consent agenda should be used only to save time, not to push something through on an unaware team or board. The only items that should be placed on a consent agenda are those that are highly likely to pass unanimously without discussion or amendment.

Straw Votes

A straw vote is as much a consensus-building tool as a time-saving tool. A straw vote involves introducing an issue and allowing a moderate amount of discussion. When the chairperson senses that there is a majority or consensus on an issue, he or she can ask for a non-binding¡Xor straw¡Xvote on the issue using a show of hands. This enables participants to see whether there is a consensus and how other people are voting. If there is a clear majority, the chairperson can ask, ¡§Are you ready to vote?¡¨ The straw vote can cut down on discussion time as it reveals when a group is ready to vote, often long before they realize they are ready.

Discussion-Only Items

Some group shave found they can save time by bringing up an item at separate meetings. The first time an item is brought up it is either introduced without discussion (preferably at the end of a meeting) or introduced for discussion only. At the next meeting it can be brought up for a vote without any discussion. This method allows participants to work out any problems they have with the item between meetings instead of on the spot. They can then come to a meeting more prepared and comfortable with their decision.

The reward to implementing the tools discussed here can be a more effective meeting style.

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