Running a great meeting

February 2, 2007
Lynn Helmer, MD, MBA, FACP
Lynn Helmer, MD, MBA, FACP

Dr. Helmer has been an internist in private practice and is currently president of DRD Consulting, an executive training firm specializing in the healthcare field, in Haddon Heights, NJ. She was formerly vice president of medical affairs/chief medical off

Personal Best

"Not another meeting!"

Some meeting announcements spark as much enthusiasm as a flat tire. But you can break that mold by putting together a productive, interesting session that will boost your reputation as a leader, motivate attendees, and guarantee that you'll come out with results that make a difference.

Effective meetings don't happen by accident. You'll need to prepare, and use or develop your leadership and people-management skills-the latter often presents the biggest challenge.

Preparing for the meeting

There are certain basic steps you should go through before any sort of meeting. For small, informal meetings, some of the steps can be, in effect, mental notes, but you'll need to go through them all the same if you want a truly productive session.

Define the meeting's goal. Is a meeting the best forum for accomplishing what you want? Often, you're better off dealing with topics-particularly with large groups-via e-mail. You don't need a meeting when the purpose is simply to report information and no discussion is anticipated or required. You'll earn respect if you develop a reputation for holding meetings only when they're absolutely necessary.

Call a meeting only if you need input from others; you anticipate that some people will want to give information or opinions that could change the plan; your corporation or hospital mandates it; or, face-to-face communication is needed to make your project successful.

Circulate an agenda before the meeting. This gives people a chance to collect their thoughts and come prepared to talk about key issues. Include any background information that would be useful for the discussion. If you have material that's more than a page long, distribute it before the meeting. People can't review and digest complicated material while a meeting's taking place. Assign a realistic time frame to each agenda item. If the agenda becomes too unwieldy, consider splitting into smaller groups to deal with some elements in advance.

Anticipate trouble and deal with it. If you expect a fight over a tough issue, lay the groundwork before the meeting. Drop by or call your opponents to discuss it; learn their concerns and address them up front, or build time into the agenda to discuss them. If you can settle some hot issues in advance, you can keep the meeting from getting derailed.

Get your props in order. Make sure the audiovisual equipment, handouts, slides, computer for PowerPoint presentations, and meeting room are ready. Practice with the technology if you aren't used to it.

Create an attention-getting opener. Sure, you can kick off a meeting by announcing, "Okay, let's get started." However, you'll elevate the event if you put some effort into beginning with an icebreaker-an introductory, entertaining, or relevant remark to start things off and set a relaxed tone.

During the meeting

Once you've gotten things started, the main goal is to keep things going smoothly and do all you can to make sure you accomplish what the meeting was intended to accomplish. Here's how to do that.

Define the rules. Some meetings, such as those held by a hospital's medical staff and medical executive committees, are required to follow parliamentary procedure. In these cases, review Robert's Rulesof Order or other parliamentary procedures that are mandated for the meeting.

Most meetings are informal, but you still need rules. I suggest proposing rules based on standard procedures, and asking for the group's approval. You might offer flexibility in one or two areas, such as the timing of breaks or working through lunch.