The ‘art’ of Opening and Closing meetings

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

If  you’ve felt that your meetings haven’t had the right spark of energy, or actually resulted in anything but a room full of hot air, then read on.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that people who are inexperienced at chairing meetings make two common mistakes:

  • Meetings are opened by jumping straight into ‘content’ (the agenda), without setting context or enjoying a momentary chat about the members of the meeting.
  • Meetings are closed without clarifying the actions, with target dates, and ensuring that they are understood.

The thing is, the participants of a meeting are, in most cases, human-beings. People with worries, excitement, aspirations, sexual energies… So when we ignore the people-elements of a group of human-beings congregating around a table, we take out the essence of getting together in the first place (you may as well hold the meeting over the telephone). It’s always a good thing to ‘humanize’ our meetings.

This is what I do.

I celebrate a success by the group or by an individual, or share some other positive news. It could be as simple as talking about the weather. Whatever my choice of subject, I talk about something positive that everyone can engage in. I get people smiling and a few laughs in before the technical subjects flood in. What I find is:

  • I get more engagement in the meeting from some of the more silent members, if they’ve had a chance to speak
  • The body language of the members will become more relaxed
  • It gives me a reference point in the meeting should the discussion require a breakpoint
  • It will assert ME a human being, and as a leader (by demonstrating my control of a meeting)
  • The energy levels of the group will have risen

The same goes for the end of the meeting, during which I may have taken notes or had someone record the minutes. The ‘content’ of the meeting is over, but the meeting itself is not.

I always end a meeting by summarizing the content of the meeting, in most cases expressed as the agreed actions with owners. If I hadn’t done so before, an expectation of the timeframe for the action is discussed – looking at them in the whites of their eyes! This becomes my indelible record of commitment, and I publish it to the group after the meeting. It’s also crucial at this point that if I suspect any action isn’t clear, or hasn’t been understood properly, that this is called out. A way of confirming the understanding is to ask what the output of the action is, such as a paper, a decision, etc. Whatever it takes to be satisfied that the next steps have the best chance of success, I take it!

Want an alternative view on how best to hold meetings? Then I recommend the following two books:

The Manager’s Guide to Effective Meetings (Briefcase Books)

How to Run a Great Workshop: The Complete Guide to Designing and Running Brilliant Workshops and Meetings

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This post is part 9 of 21 in the series Make Meetings Work

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