How to Plan Business Meetings
Have you ever planned a business meeting that didn't go quite as well as you expected? Maybe you left out someone who really should have attended the meeting, or everyone kept going off topic making it where important topics couldn't be discussed. These occurrences can unnecessarily prolong a project with an important deadline. To help your next meeting run more smoothly and save more time, include these easy steps with your planning.
When it comes to planning a meeting, it's important to know who needs to be involved, where the meeting will take place, what the main idea of the meeting should be, and where the meeting will take place.
To jump start your planning you will want to do the following:
- Develop a main idea that will be the focus of your meeting. It will be easier to determine your content if you have a focal point.
- Choose who to invite to your meeting. Double and triple check to make sure no one has been left out. If you want to include a guest speaker, make sure they are included on this list as well.
- Choose a location to hold your meeting. It would be a good idea to reserve the room as soon as possible. If the meeting will be held off site, then find out any associated costs with the room reservation. Take a look at the seating arrangements and make sure you will have enough room to accommodate your attendees.
- Decide how many individual sessions and moderators you need to have. Sometimes a meeting can be broken up into sessions to help everyone process what is being discussed. Assigning moderators to a meeting session can help keep the sessions on track.
Now, you have your list of participants you want involved in your meeting and you have your focal point developed. Your next plan of action should be designating your meeting roles. No matter how big or small the meeting capacity, it's very helpful when you have certain people in charge of different aspects of the meeting from beginning to end. Even if there are only five participants in your meeting, think of it being as important as your company's CEO's press conference.
You will want to make sure everything is covered from the speaker's role to the technician's role. To make sure you have the important positions covered, ask yourself the following:
- If you are opening up the meeting to a Q&A session, who will be running Q&A?
- Do you have a backup in place, in case anyone with a specific role is not able to attend the meeting?
- Who will be setting up laptops and microphones for the presenters if needed? It would also help if you assign someone to handle technical support in case there is an unexpected malfunction with the equipment.
- Who will be moderating the sessions to keep everyone on the agenda?
Write an Agenda
Your next plan of action in organizing your meeting will be writing your agenda. You can think of your agenda as a "table of contents" for your meeting. It will serve as a guide or layout for the meeting as well as give your attendees an idea on how long they need to block out their calendars.
The agenda should identify the following:
- Introduction – How long will your introduction be? A good introduction should include the subject of the meeting, who the speakers are, and when questions will be allowed. In most cases, introductions will only take a couple of minutes. However, if you do have additional items you need to cover in your introduction, try to make it as brief as possible. You don't want your introduction to take over your meeting.
- Speakers – It would be a good idea to list who your speakers are on your agenda as well as what topics they will be covering. This way your attendees will know who to direct their questions to when it’s time for the Q&A session.
- Presentation Titles (for multiple subjects) – Obviously, you will only include this part on your agenda if your meeting will contain a presentation. Although some presenters like to print out every single slide and pass them out to their attendees, this isn't really necessary unless your attendees request for the print outs. A rundown of the presentation titles for each subject being discussed in your agenda should be sufficient enough.
- Time Allocated for each session – Assigning a specific time for each session will help your meeting stay on target and not go over its assumed time slot. It will also help your moderators or hosts stay within specified time limits.
- Q&A Running Time – Depending on how long your speakers will be presenting and how long you have allocated time for the meeting will depend on how long your Q&A session will last. You might have a meeting where there are only two or three questions. On the other hand, you could have everyone in the meeting raising their hand to ask what they feel is important. In either case, knowing how long you have for your Q&A session will help your moderators determine how many questions can be asked and to speed up the process if it is lagging.
You have your list of attendees you want to invite to your meeting, now you need to decide how you're going to send out the invitation. There are many resources you can use such as a registration page, social networks, or simple email. The way you send out your invite all depends on the purpose of the meeting.
- Registration Page – Do you need to keep track of your attendees and other useful information such as who they work for or what area they are from? Using a registration page can help simplify this task. You can either email the link to your registration page to your invited participants, or you can post the link online extending the invitation to those who might be interested but not on your primary invitation list.
- Social Media – Want to attract more attendees to your meeting? The use of social media can help spread the word. Post the details on your Twitter account, Facebook status, or any other social media outlets you or your company might use to gain attention to your meeting.
- Email – If your meeting is strictly going to be within the company, then using your email or setting up a calendar item with your email system would probably be the most appropriate. Be sure to include where and when the meeting will occur as well as any materials that your attendees will need to bring such as pen and paper or certain reports.
- Be sure that you schedule meetings far in advance. This will ensure that those you would most like to attend will have their calendars free for your meeting. A good rule of thumb would be to send out your invitations no later than two weeks from the scheduled date.
While you were creating the first steps in planning your meeting, you were able to pinpoint the main idea. Now, you will need to construct the details of your meeting that help support your focal point. To help you create a logical flow of content, answer the following:
- How will you support the main idea of your presentation? What facts and visuals can you present that will bring value to your topic?
- Do you need to provide examples of pros and cons for your main idea?
- How does the information you are presenting benefit the company or the project?
If you will be hosting a large event, a guest speaker can be a great addition to a business meeting. You will want to make sure to book your speaker well in advance to ensure they are able to make their appearance. To book your guest speaker you will want to:
- Do Some Research – You want to make sure your guest speaker provides insightful information that will captivate your audience. Do some research online and read reviews about their speeches. Make sure they are able to make their speech relevant to your meeting. Don't pick the speaker just because they are well known. If they really are not able to bring anything to the table, it would be wasted money to book them for your event.
- Contact Your Potential Guest Speaker – When you find a speaker you would like to invite to participate in your meeting, email or contact them. Explain why you think they would be a great addition and how you found out about them. Also, ask them about their pricing so you can include their rate in your meeting budget.
- Say Thank You – Once you've booked the speaker, be sure to send them a thank you gift or card. Not only is saying thank you professional etiquette, but it will make the guest speaker feel welcome and a part of your business meeting.
- Give Your Speaker Important Information – Notify your speaker in advance of the venue, available hotel accommodations, and anything they might need to know to gain access to the meeting. Also, send them a copy of the agenda so they will know where they will fit into your meeting and what time frame they are allowed to speak.
If you anticipate hosting a large business meeting, then providing a visual aid will help engage your audience. PowerPoint presentations become great visual aids and can help with your meeting content. When it comes time to build your slide presentation, keep in mind these useful tips:
- Use a neutral design scheme on your slides. Sometimes, using a bold or busy scheme can distract your attendees from the purpose of your presentation.
- Keep animations and text transitions to a minimum. While they can be fun to add and some might get a laugh or two, adding too much can become another distraction to your presentation.
- Instead of raiding your ClipArt, find professional looking images that will enhance your message instead of taking away from it.
- Do your best to keep presentations less than 20 slides. If you do go over 20 slides in your presentation, double check to see if there is anything you can edit out. Having more than 20 slides is okay, however, you want to keep in mind your audience's attention span.
- The same rule applies to the amount of text you’re using on your slide. Try to keep the text to a minimum and instead use your voice to explain the information in depth.
Bonus Tip: Don’t directly read from your presentation slides. The PowerPoint is an enhancement to your meeting. Instead, have notecards readily available that you can look at in case you find yourself stumbling.
If you want more information and suggestions on how to create your presentations, here are three great blog posts we’ve written.
Meeting Ice Breakers
It can be nerve wracking when you are in a room full of people that you don't know. To help ease the tension, starting a meeting of with a 5 minute ice breaker can make everyone feel a little more comfortable. Try one of these ice breaker ideas during your next meeting and see if it helps loosen up the room.
- Make nametags for each person and as people walk in, have them draw out a name. Before the meeting starts, let people know to find the person on their tag and introduce themselves.
- Play the two lies and a truth game. As each participant walks in, have them fill out a notecard with two lies and a truth about themselves. Instruct them to find someone they don't know to have the other person guess which one is the truth.
- Ask your attendees trivial questions about your company or organization. Offer prizes to the first one who answers the question correctly.
Looking for different ice breakers? Check out our collection of games and networking tips.
During the Meeting
While you were mapping out the meeting in the beginning, you had to assign specific participants of the meeting certain tasks. Now that your meeting is in session, it's time for your designated participants to help the meeting run as smoothly as possible.
- Moderator – Your moderator will be in charge of keeping the meeting schedule as close to the agenda as possible. Sometimes, speakers can go over their time limits or the Q&A session can go longer than it needs to. The moderator will need to politely interrupt when this happens to ensure the meeting stays on track.
- Q&A Administrator – In most cases, the moderator will handle the Q&A session. However, if you have assigned someone else to take charge of questions, they will also need to be aware of their time limit. Although not everyone will be able to have their questions answered, your Q&A administrator should try to be sure they take questions from all points of the room and take as many questions as possible.
- Host – If you are not acting as the host, you will want to make sure the host of the meeting not only greets attendees before the meeting, but you will also want to be sure they thank the speaker for their information as well as those participants who asked questions when it's time for closing statements.
Using Twitter with Your Meetings
Using social networks like Twitter are a great way to encourage participant involvement with your meeting.
- Include a hash tag (Ex: #meetingsubject ) on your agenda.
- Include the hash tag on your first PowerPoint slides to remind participants.
- Don't be afraid to request that certain sessions aren't included as part of the Twitter chat.
- Assign someone to respond to Twitter messages about the meeting subject so that you are engaging with your audience.
After the Meeting
Finally, your carefully planned meeting has come to an end. However, it's not over just because you’ve all gone home. Any great meeting planner knows that following up is the only way to know how you really performed.
- Send Your Appreciation – Send hand written thank you cards to the speakers for helping to make your meeting informative and exciting.
- Feedback – Request feedback from participants on the call. You don't need to send them a blanket email, but instead, pick a handful of parties to survey. Ask them specific questions about the meeting and how they enjoyed the different presentations.
- Make the Presentation Available – If the PowerPoint presentation isn't a big file, send it to the attendees to help them continue to apply principals after the meeting is over. If the file is too big to send via email, check with your IT department and see if you can add it to your company's website as a download. There is a lot of great information out there and people can only take notes so fast.
- Invite Attendees Again – Keep a list of your attendees and invite them to your next business meeting. You never know when you made a great impression on someone and they might be interested in attending.