A guide to meeting management

When done right, effective meeting management can lead to collaborative, inclusive, and successful meetings.


October 14, 2021 · 11 min readPeople Management

When done right, effective meeting management can lead to collaborative, inclusive, and successful meetings where every topic gets discussed and no action item is left behind. If done wrong, meetings can be overly long, confusing, and lead to never completed action items. How can you develop meetings that cover the necessary items without dragging, even when they're being held online?

Having a purpose-driven agenda, analyzing meeting effectiveness and attendee engagement, and defining clear action items are the core concepts that make up the foundation of any successful meeting. These factors are especially important to develop in the era of virtual meetings, which come with many distractions. And with the video conferencing market expected to reach $50 billion by 2026, it's more important than ever to master these skills. As such, following the steps in this guide will elevate your meeting skills and leave every team member ready to go. 

First things first: nailing the meeting agenda

The agenda can make or break the overall meeting experience. Without a detailed and organized agenda, meetings can go downhill fast and waste precious time and resources. Don't worry, though — constructing a purpose-driven meeting agenda is easier than it initially seems, as long as you have the right elements in mind. 

Develop a clear outcome

Ask, "What's the outcome we hope to achieve with this meeting?" Knowing the exact reason for the meeting will establish that it has a purpose and is worth the time and money. For instance, if you want to increase company spending, consider an outcome like "examine budgeting to target financially weak areas to improve by the end of the month." This gives you a place to focus (budgeting) and a timeframe (end of the month). 

Break down the agenda

A well-defined outcome should lead to precise meeting topics, allowing for productive and engaging discussions. It may help to list topics as questions to encourage participation. For example, you can ask attendees, "How can we effectively split up the budget to ensure increased spending?" Allocate how much time you will need for each topic and who should lead the discussion. Don't get too strict with time limits, though — meetings rarely go exactly as planned.

Be proactive with attendees 

Sharing your agenda with attendees beforehand is one of the most overlooked meeting management best practices. While many meeting leaders may send out what materials attendees should review prior to the meeting, they often fail to get the attendees fully prepared in an actionable way. Make sure your employees know to read the entire agenda and then share their input before the meeting, if possible. Respond to each piece of input, and do your best to work those suggestions into the agenda. This creates an inclusive and collaborative atmosphere and ensures attendees will want to contribute. 

Optimizing clear action items

There are times when you may experience productive meetings with lots of collaborative brainstorming, energetic discussions, and a positive atmosphere. After a little time passes, however, you realize that some team members haven't taken steps decided in the meeting. The reason for this frequently comes down to unclear action times. 

Action items are tasks with a deadline and should be clear and easy to follow. The last few minutes of every meeting should be dedicated to outlining what is required of every attendee. It helps to use definitive language. Instead of a vague action like, "Bill will file the paperwork," consider, "Bill will complete the paperwork and submit it to Sarah by end-of-day." The action and the deadline are defined, and everyone will know how to proceed. 

Asking attendees to look at the agenda beforehand can lead to highly increased productivity.

Be sure to ask for verbal confirmation from the attendee assigned the task to see that they fully understand and have the resources they need. This can save a lot of back and forth in emails and phone calls after the meeting. Make certain you or the notetaker of the meeting marks down every action item on the agenda and sends them out post-meeting as a friendly reminder of what needs to be done. 

Analyze, analyze, analyze

Meeting management does not stop once the meeting is over — it continues during the analysis and evaluation of meeting effectiveness.

With over 90% of employees multitasking or daydreaming during meetings, all team leaders can benefit from reviewing these components. This is especially true for virtual meeting management, as attendees tend to be distracted, checking their texts, emails, or cute cat pictures on social media during virtual calls, decreasing the success of the meeting overall. 

For your analysis, answer the following questions: 

Meeting execution

  • Was the outcome of the meeting met?

  • Were all topics covered? 

  • Was the discussion productive?

  • Was the tone of the meeting positive?

Meeting timing

  • Did the meeting start on time?

  • Was too much time spent on one topic?

  • Did every attendee have the same amount of time to speak? 

  • Did the meeting run too long/short? 

Meeting attendees

  • How satisfied are you with the quality of the meeting discussion?

  • Did any attendees dominate the discussion?

  • Were all attendees prepared for the meeting?

  • Was any attendee late?

While it's important for meeting facilitators to answer these questions and analyze their responses, getting feedback from attendees is also useful for evaluating meeting practices. Not everyone will be comfortable sharing how they felt the meeting went in person, but you can send out a post-meeting survey or questionnaire to get honest feedback. You can ask attendees to rate the meeting on a scale of 1-5 and write a comment or two.

Use this information to understand what went well and what could be improved for next time. 

All action items should be written down during the meeting and sent out post-meeting.

No more wasteful meetings

Poor meeting management leads to a staggering loss of nearly $400 billion every year in both time and resources. Unfortunately, many business meetings don't serve a clear purpose and take time away from more productive tasks. By following the above steps, you can craft a meeting management system that is purposeful, actionable, inclusive, and memorable for all who attend. 

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