No matter how informal the meeting, preparation in advance can improve the effectiveness of the meeting itself. When planning a meeting, visualize in advance how the meeting will unfold: who will stand where, how long the presentations will last, how the meeting will be organized.
When sending materials in advance of the meeting, be clear what home work you are asking attendees to do. For example, if you send a document for review, ask for comments on specific aspects of the document - different reviewers are asked to comment on substance, design, and editorial issues. If you've been asked to prepare for a meeting, allow plenty of time to finish the work before the meeting starts. If you haven't been asked to prepare, double-check with the organizer to be sure nothing is expected of you in advance. Occasionally it is necessary to ask someone to speak on a topic for which they have not been asked to prepare. Courtesy dictates that you inform the others in attendance that the person is speaking off the cuff.
Even if you expect guests to prepare for the meeting, bring enough copies of the agenda and of the handouts for everyone who attends, along with notes from the previous meeting if applicable.
Choose a meeting location that suits the occasion - right size, convenient location, appropriate technological capabilities, proper ventilation, space to hang coats, etc. Then, make sure the room is outfitted with the appropriate amenities and equipment to make the guests comfortable and the meeting effective.
Tables and chairs. There should be enough room for everyone to sit down and spread out at the conference table. It is a show of courtesy and respect not to make guests bring their own chairs to a meeting. For a large meeting or conference, it may be necessary to arrange with facilities professionals to provide sufficient chairs. Investigate lead times for such services as soon as you know you will be organizing a meeting.
Atmosphere. If the room is cool at the beginning of the meeting, it will warm up to a comfortable temperature as the meeting unfolds. Check lighting, including dimmer switches. Practice dimming the lights and covering the windows for audiovisual presentations. For a larger meeting, be sure the speaker is well lit and visible from the back of the room.
Accommodations. Make sure all guests are fully able to participate: the room is accessible by wheelchair, interpreters are present, and other disabilities are accommodated.
Sound. Test all microphones and amplification equipment before guests arrive. Stand in various parts of the room to be sure the sound is neither echoed nor muffled. Check battery levels on cordless equipment.
Supplies. Arrange for flipcharts and markers, notebooks, pens, sticky notes, pencils, nametags, podiums, projection screens, video equipment, and other materials required by the speakers. If the meeting is off site, it may be worth bringing your own meeting supplies if you are unsure about the venue.
Note taking. One person should be responsible for keeping an official record of the meeting. Designate that person in advance. Formal meetings may call for an audiotape record. Use video sparingly, for example at conferences and shareholders' meetings. Video makes the tenor of the meeting more formal and may discourage participation.
Refreshments. If guests are coming in from outside the organization, refreshments are in order. Order bottled water and a variety of other drinks and food that is easy to eat without spilling or leaving crumbs. Decide in advance what restaurant will supply lunch to avoid unnecessary discussions, and take into account your guests' dietary restrictions when reviewing menus. Regular work meetings may not call for food and beverages.
Breaks. Give attendees a rest approximately every 90 minutes. Some meetings may need only 5- to 10-minute breaks. If refreshments are served, a 15-minute break is typically needed. As the meeting breaks, say specifically what time the meeting will resume to ensure that everyone returns promptly.
Interruptions. If the room has a telephone, make sure it is set to "Do Not Disturb." If necessary, post a sign on the door saying a meeting is in session. Let support staff know what types of interruptions are permitted.
- Jo Schlegel, Editor-in-Chief