How to host a productive meeting

I specialize in stakeholder engagement—which involves a lot of meetings. As we all know, not all meetings are a good use of time. Over the years, I've learned that one of the keys to hosting a productive meeting is knowing what your job is as host.

Be aware of your role

There are two different, but overlapping, roles you should be familiar with when you take on the challenge of hosting a productive meeting: Effective chairperson and sensitive facilitator.

1) Effective chairperson

First, you need to be an effective chairperson, which I define as the organizer and manager of an event that is worth the time and effort of each participant. To be a good chair, you need to remember and deliver on the three P's: purpose, process and product.

Purpose

Ensure that the meeting has a clear purpose or focus, and call people to attend and contribute in a way that maintains collective focus on that purpose throughout the meeting. It's too easy to get off track.

Process

A good meeting process will balance participation and help draw out group members' best thinking. You should ensure that the process of discussion at the meeting is clear to everyone attending, as well as logical and efficient. Whatever process you decide to use, make sure you're clear on it, and help the group use it effectively.

Product

Finally, focus on the product of the meeting. That is, keep the group aware of and focused on the decision and/or other outcomes that they need to arrive at by the end of the meeting, and ensure the group arrives there.

2) Sensitive facilitator

If the three P's are in place, you can focus on your second major role: sensitively facilitating both robust participation and group learning. Facilitating discussion, idea generation, reflection and consensus among people of diverse perspectives is truly an art form, but it is also a set of discrete skills and requires a deep dedication to serving the group.

Whatever style you use, as a facilitator, you need to make group discussion easier and productive while ensuring everyone has the opportunity to contribute and ask questions. Facilitation requires you to model and encourage active listening as the group works together to achieve the product you've all established.

The best way to learn? Practice!

Balancing these two roles effectively (and staying on time!) is essential to hosting a productive meeting. There is no better way to learn how to do all this than by stepping forward and offering to do it. Good luck!

About the author

Vince Verlaan is a community and stakeholder engagement specialist, participatory planner, workshop and process designer and facilitator, and educator with more than 20 years of experience. As principal of Modus Planning, Design and Engagement, he works across many sectors, but the core practice is the design and facilitation of "strong engagement" initiatives with and for local and regional governments, crown corporations, community groups, universities and progressive private companies.

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