Commencing a Meeting
- Q: How to prevent meetings being boring?
A: This is quite tricky, because “boring” for some people can be “interesting” for others. If people are getting bored in a meeting it’s an indication that perhaps they shouldn’t be there – it could be that the topic is too specialised/technical for them, or too high-level/superficial. Either way, it’s about getting the right people at the right meeting.
Of course, if everyone is finding a meeting boring, it could be that the chair needs to look at some of the other tips about running a meeting!
- Q: How to ensure everyone in a meeting knows each other?
A: The chair ought to check whether everyone knows each other at the start of a meeting. If in doubt, it’s best to do a round of introductions: ask everyone to say who they are and what their role/objective is in attending the meeting.
- Q: How to deal with stand-up meetings in an open space that has no privacy?
A: The first rule of public stand-up meetings is to keep them short and to the point.
Second, as there’s no privacy, you shouldn’t discuss anything sensitive or anything that you wouldn’t be happy to share with anyone who might overhear the meeting.
Close by establishing whether you need another (longer) meeting in a private meeting space.
- Q: What is the best ice-breaker at the first meeting of a new team?
A: Ice-breakers should be fun, quick to run, and work best when they’re new to the people involved.
So try not to use any ice-breaker more than once.
- Q: Any tips to ensure that a meeting gets off to a good start?
A: The first thing to mention is to ensure you have prepared properly, including inviting the right attendees, choosing a good venue and/or suitable technology, and issuing joining instructions and an agenda.
Other things to get the meeting off to a good start could include:
- Clearly setting out the objectives for the meeting
- Introducing all the participants or, preferably, getting them to introduce themselves
- Running through the agenda
- Checking everyone has received any documents issued in advance
- Nominating people to the roles of chair, time-keeper, note-taker, scope-monitor and any session presenters (or, if already appointed, checking that everyone knows who is doing what)
- If it’s a new group, having some sort of ice-breaker
- Q: How important is body language during the commencement phase of a meeting?
A: Body language is important at all stages of a meeting, which is a key reason why in-person meetings are often superior to virtual meetings.
- Q: What are the factors involved in dealing with an ‘elephant in the room’?
A: The main way to deal with an ‘elephant in the room’ (a problem or issue that people don’t want to acknowledge or discuss) is for the chair to ensure that the problem is acknowledged and given due consideration.
If the chair seems unwilling to do this, any attendee who is particularly concerned about the issue should bring it up.
- Q: What do you do if a key decision-maker is late for the meeting?
A: The most obvious point is not to decide (and preferably not even discuss) the topic this person is required for. So some re-jigging of the agenda may be required.
- Q: How does one commence different styles of meetings?
A: The style of the meeting is probably not the most important factor. Rather the culture of the group and/or the personal style of the chair (or sometimes the organiser) should be the deciding factor in how to commence the meeting.
However, if it’s a new group, you should pay more attention to introductions, objectives and setting expectations than you would for a group that has met several times before.
- Q: If there is bad news, should it be given first at the start of the meeting?
A: This is the sort of thing you shouldn’t be too prescriptive about. It depends very much on the context: what sort of news, what sort of meeting, and who is attending? Also, your personal style and preferences need to be taken into account.
The advantages of giving bad news at the start of the meeting are that it gets it out of the way, puts everyone on an even footing, restricts speculation, and (hopefully) allows people to focus on the purpose of the meeting.
The disadvantages are that people get diverted into discussing the ramifications of the news and are distracted from the meeting because they are wondering what it means for them.
- Q: How does one stop a person starting the meeting with windbaggery?
A: Much the same as you would at any time during a meeting. It would help if you set expectations or ground rules about being concise and staying on topic at the start of the meeting.
If someone starts going on for too long, it’s usually best to be fairly direct and say something like “OK, I understand, let’s hear what xxxx thinks” or “That’s great, what does everyone else think?”, or if the speaker is going off topic “Can we get back to the agenda and if there’s time at the end we can discuss this point then”.
- Q: What to do if the meeting room you’ve booked is already occupied when you arrive?
A: Check that you have booked the room and, assuming you have, you are entitled to interrupt and politely explain that you have booked a meeting there. You may need to negotiate with the occupants about how quickly they can vacate the room.
- Q: What to do if you can’t get into the video (or telephone) conference app when the meeting is due to start?
A: First check you have the right access credentials and try again ensuring you’ve entered the details correctly. You also need to check you have a good internet / phone connection and there isn’t a technical problem with your set-up.
If you still can’t get in, contact the meeting organiser by another means to enquire whether there is a general problem.
- Q: How to ensure attendees are aware that the subject of the meeting is private / sensitive?
A: You need to explain this right at the outset.
It will help if you can explain why the subject is private / sensitive and, if you can, let people know when it can be discussed publicly (for example, after an official announcement has been made).
- Q: What do you do if the Chair of the meeting is very late?
A: Depending on the group’s culture (and any formal protocols), the other participants could agree to appoint someone else to chair the meeting in the meantime.