A 2-hour meeting ends up taking 3hrs. You get to about half of what you had planned. Some people are listening and on topic, others are on their phones, or keep talking about unrelated things.

Sound familiar?

Here is a 3-part series on how you can plan and run more effective meetings.

  1. Starting meetings off well
  2. Planning effective and realistic agendas
  3. Ending meetings well and fueling follow-up work

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Part 1: Starting Meetings off well

Here are 3 basic but game-changing tips for Starting Meetings off well:

1. Context makes kindness: Have a meeting check-in

Ever sat in a meeting after having a really tough day and you just couldn’t  focus? Have you seen a colleague impatiently rush a meeting along because they needed to leave early?  

It is much easier for us to focus if we have had a chance to exchange exciting news, chat with Katie about her vacation, share that we just came out of a rough meeting, etc. We can also be more kind with each other if we know that Kim feels antsy because she needs to get to the airport on time or that Paul just received some bad family news.

Additionally, people are more likely to speak up and voice their thoughts later-on in a meeting if they already spoke at the beginning. So a check-in at the start can also help make sure that all voices are heard.

Note: If the group doesn’t know each other, also plan in brief introductions, or use a get-to-know activity (I’m preparing a collection to share in a future newsletter!)

How do you facilitate check-ins?

I’ll share a more detailed post about check-in activities for groups of different sizes soon, but here is one very simple way that works for smaller groups:
Go around the table or circle and ask everyone to answer one of these questions in 1 minute or less:

  • How has your day been so far?
  • What questions are you arriving with today?
  • Why did you decide to come today?

2. Have an up-front contract

It doesn’t matter who I am meeting with – a client, an entire board, or to discuss something with my fiancé: I always start the meeting with an up-front contract.

This is very simple – all you need to do is check and agree on the meeting basics:

    1. Restate how long the meeting was scheduled for and check if this still works for everyone.  
      That  helps keep everyone on time and makes sure no one gets antsy because they have to leave 5 minutes early but didn’t have a chance to say so.
    2. Restate what the meeting is about and what outcomes the meeting is aiming for. Depending on the nature of the meeting, it might be ok for one person to suggest these outcomes; often it is best to ask everyone what they are hoping to leave with. Write these desired outcomes down and make sure they are covered in your agenda or scheduled for a future meeting.

3. Co-create an goal-based Agenda

Sometimes, we can send around an agenda before the meeting; other times, that doesn’t work and we all arrive at the meeting without a shared agenda. Either way, make sure everyone knows what the agenda is:

If you sent an agenda around ahead of time,…

  • Share the agenda on a flipchart or whiteboard, so that everyone can see it and you can refer back to it throughout the meeting.
  • Briefly go over the agenda and ask for additions to it (based on the desired meeting outcomes you just checked in about).

If you did not set an agenda beforehand,…

  • Briefly create one now. It is important to do this with the group and to write it down on a flipchart or whiteboard where everyone can see it. If the agenda is decided on and written down by one person in their personal notebook, others likely won’t feel included and engaged.

Don’t forget the breaks!

Either way, remember to plan in breaks if your meeting is longer than 90 minutes. When time is short, breaks are the first things that get scrapped, and it can quickly derail any meeting. 10 minutes for a break is time well spent, as people come back refreshed, nourished and focused, which will make your meeting much more efficient, effective and kind.

Last but not least: write the breaks down in the agenda. People can focus much better when they know when the next break will be to get a coffee, make that urgent phone call, or check their email.


From here, you are ready to dive into your meeting.

This sounds like a lot, but for small groups, this can take as little as 10-15 minutes – time that will make the rest of your meeting more efficient and smooth.

Speaking of time: How do you make sure everything you need to talk about fits in the time you have for the meeting?  Check out Part 2 – it’s all about planning effective & realistic agendas.