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Blog: Can We Have Some Order Here?
Making The Most Of Meetings

A meeting is a double-edge sword. It can be a great way to share information or engage in participatory group planning if run correctly -- and a massive waste of time if not. So how do you draw the line between a good meeting and poor one?

If, When, And Who?

Some people's knee-jerk reaction to a problem is "Let's have a meeting!" But face-to-face meetings can be hard to coordinate, expensive, disruptive, time-consuming, and just downright inefficient. Folks almost always have something better that they could be doing with their day -- so before proposing a meeting, ask yourself if there is another more effective way to handle the situation.

Start by figuring out "why" you are having this meeting. If you need to disseminate information, could you do it with a memo or report? If you want to engage in a dialogue, can you set up a phone or web conference? If you are trying to brainstorm a decision, may participants submit their ideas in writing? If a meeting will best accomplish your goals, great -- have one! Otherwise, look to the alternatives.

Another issue to consider is who should be at your meeting. It's important to make sure that the people who attend your meeting a) need to be there, and b) can contribute meaningfully to the discussion. Does your entire organization have to gather set your annual budget? Or would you accomplish more if you invited a select group of participants who are most directly involved in financial planning? Do you need to meet separately with every department team leader? Or could you consolidate these individual appointments into one group assembly to save time?

The reverse is also true when you are a meeting participant, rather than the coordinator. Remember, the responsibility for a successful meeting does not lie entirely with its planners. It is also up to you, as an attendee, to help the meeting along. Prepare in advance -- review the agenda, write down any questions or issues you want to bring up, and collect all of your materials together in a single folder or project file. Confirm the meeting time before leaving and plan to be 15 minutes early so you can settle in. Always bring a pad and pen so you can take your own notes (never rely just on the meeting minutes!) And take time at the end of the meeting to clarify any assignments you have accepted, their deadlines, and the method of reporting back.

Your Agenda

As they say in football, the best defense is a good offense -- and this is also true with meetings. Popping up and calling a meeting at the last minute is a sure-fire way to derail your efforts, so try to avoid "impromptu" gatherings (you'll get better results if you plan in advance, giving participants ample opportunity to clear their schedule and prepare mentally for the task at hand.) You should also ask attendees for any discussion items a week prior to meeting -- then send out the completed agenda 2-3 days before the event so folks can review it.

One of the biggest challenges for any meeting is controlling how long it takes. Be clear up front about the start time, and don't wait for stragglers. Think about convening at an odd time -- people are more likely to arrive promptly for a meeting that begins at 3:42 PM instead of 4 PM. Also avoid asking people to gather on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons -- you almost guarantee attendees will be running late and low on energy.

Then in order to end a meeting on time, you must a) know exactly what topics you plan to cover, b) allot a set amount of time for each issue, and c) have a method for keeping participants on track. Use your agenda and minutes to guide the conversation -- and assign a timekeeper to signal each move to the next agenda item. You need to control the discussion or it will control your meeting! Limit the time each person is given to talk, don't be afraid to cut someone off if needed, and keep things moving from debate toward action. Running an effective meeting requires rules and boundary lines -- and someone who is willing to enforce them.


Record-keeping is vital to the success of your meeting, so let's talk about the basics. Of course, you want to start any meeting minutes with the date, the name of the organization, the purpose of the meeting (annual review, budget planning session, nomination of new members, etc.) -- and the people attending (just send around a sign-in sheet to save time.) And try to avoid a lot of weird shortcuts -- unless you are a trained stenographer, shorthand is unlikely to save you much time (especially when you take notes that make sense at the time of the meeting, but are indecipherable later on!) Unless it's a standard abbreviation that anyone would recognize, save yourself a headache and just write it out!

If you're getting a cramp in your hand, then be more selective with your note-taking -- you don't need to write down every word that is said! As a new topic is introduced, start a new header on your page (otherwise, you may become confused later as one topic merges into another.) Then write down only salient points (these include motions, votes, actions taken -- as well as valuable suggestions made that may be acted upon later, important facts worth noting, and dissenting views.) It's also wise to make a note of who offered that idea, in case you need to refer back later. And if you find taking notes during a meeting distracting, if it's keeping you from fully engaging in the discussion or absorbing the information that is shared, then use a small audio recorder to tape the proceedings -- then transcribe the important points to paper later.

If you attend meetings regularly -- or serve as secretary -- you will probably accumulate a profusion of meeting minutes. Organize these in chronological order in either a 3-ring binder or a pressboard folder with prongs. Simply hole-punch the latest set of notes (or write directly onto hole-punched paper) and place these on top of the older minutes. Voila -- you have an ongoing chronological reference of each meeting. Meeting-goers also know that you tend to collect a lot of paper in addition to minutes -- memos, rosters, information about special events, budget reports, etc. The easiest way to organize these is in an expanding accordion file. This allows you to set up a section for each category of paper or for each organization. And if you get a file with a lid and handle, it's portable, so you can take it with you to and from meetings.

read the original post of this blog

posted on: 2/3/2011 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips

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Can We Have Some Order Here?

by Ramona Creel

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About Ramona:

I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!

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