Holding effective business meetings: a 10 step guide
We’ve all been there. You’re in a room full of colleagues or potential clients and you feel ignored. Those who speak the loudest commands the direction of the meeting and you leave feeling your expertise or opinions have not been listened to. It can all feel like a waste of time – but it doesn’t have to be. Our 10 top tips to getting the most out of business meetings could help you wave goodbye to the endless frustration.
Research tells us the average executive spends 23 hours of every working week in business meetings. But despite spending over half of the week in them, many report that they find this time unproductive.
We call business meetings because we want to reach a resolution or agreement on how to move forward with a business decision. But all-too-often these good intentions are clouded by competitiveness. The more people and business functions involved, the more complex these issues become. As teams and managers compete for resources, it can feel difficult to be heard and often causes conflict.
It’s natural that with so many contrasting personalities, motives and priorities in the room, descent into relative chaos can happen. The key to avoiding this is the separation of ‘facts’ from ‘opinions’. Both have an important part to play in meetings, but the order that they are discussed can make or break its success.
Often, meeting facilitators are inadvertently the ones to blame for this. We ask people to speak up and share opinions throughout meetings – which often leads to certain individuals or teams anchoring each point with their thoughts, rather than facts. Research shows that a correlation of 85% or more between the initial anchor point and the outcome of the meeting. This has the potential to be lead to outcomes that, at worst, could damage your business performance. Luckily, this can be combatted by adopting a ‘facts first’ structure to your meetings.
Our 10 steps to conducting a productive ‘facts first’ meeting could help your teams make better business decisions and strengthen working relationships.
Set expectations and objectives before the meeting
Establishing an overarching goal will help every attendee focus on the common objective and prepare any documents they need to bring with them.
This may include an agenda and pre-meeting action points sent to everyone invited. These may include collating sales figures, analytics reports, or other fact-based documents that will help drive the meeting to a successful outcome.
Everybody invited needs to support the process of achieving an outcome. If there are no pre-meeting actions for an invitee, consider whether their attendance is required or if a quick individual chat or email would be better. Remember, attendees can always feed down the outcomes to their teams.
You may also want to consider where potential conflict may arise and prepare some additional documents in expectation.
Facts before opinions
This may sound quite simple, but people often get confused between opinions and facts. Recognising the difference is the most important step in achieving a successful outcome in your meeting. People love to share their opinions – and to hold on to them.
Facts are quantifiable pieces of information such as sales data, technical reports, or research. When somebody begins to start sentences with phrases such as “I think…”, “I want…” or “I feel…”, they are staying into opinions.
Facts should be established at the beginning of the meeting before any creative discussion. Let the meeting participants know that they will be invited to share opinions at a later point in the discussion.
Document facts within the meeting minutes
Not taking notes during the meeting leaves everyone open to misinterpretation. Create a template for taking meeting notes and write down any facts presented as well as the person who gave them.
Allow facts to be challenged
Although we should lead on facts over opinions, do not accept them blindly. The way facts are presented can be twisted to influence others in one way or another.
Do not be afraid of speaking up in the meeting and questioning the validity of any facts presented or what it could mean for any business outcomes.
Be open to changing your initial thoughts or feelings
You may walk into a meeting thinking you are going to know the end outcome. Our opinions can be difficult to let go of but go into the meeting ready to listen, learn and – potentially – let the facts guide your feelings.
The purpose of adopting a ‘facts first’ approach to meetings is to enable you to be influenced by quantifiable information and help you to be more open in your thoughts and feelings. Trust the process!
Invite creativity and opinion after facts
When each member of the meeting has contributed factual information to the meeting, allow the group to come together for creativity, interpretation and experience-based opinion. At this point, the facts have anchored the meeting.
Let a facilitator guide creative brainstorms
When discussing the facts in a more interpretive, opinion-based way – always appoint a facilitator to manage and record the discussion. Once you have done the good work of basing the meeting discussion on facts, it could be easy to let the loudest voice derail the progress. A facilitator will help you ensure the meeting direction is not changed to suit somebody’s interests.
Allow everybody to agree on the outcome and actions
When we’ve combined the opinions based on the anchoring facts, business decisions will start to become clear. The final stage of your meeting should allow everybody to agree on the next steps needed based on the facilitated discussion.
Assign actions and timelines
As your desired decision becomes clearer, assign necessary tasks to individuals and teams that will help you achieve it. Set clear timelines for individual actions that are workable for those involved.
Follow-up after the meeting
The meeting doesn’t end because everybody has left the room. It’s important to follow up and share the minutes with everybody involved, with an opportunity to feedback and clarify any points. Not only does it serve as a useful guide to plan their work, it also gives a useful opportunity to amend their initial thoughts or position without the fear of ‘losing face’ in front of colleagues.
When sending your meeting agenda and expectations to your teams, set a structure that allows facts to be presented at the beginning of the meeting – and set a scheduled agenda point for facilitated creative discussion and brainstorming based on the information presented.
Focussing on facts before opinions allow businesses to move away from a cycle of confirmation bias – the process of searching for information to back up an opinion. By switching this around, we open ourselves up to a structure that promotes new perspectives and better decision making.
Improve your meeting facilitation skills
At The Speaking Clinic, we can help you facilitate effective business meetings. If you’d like to improve your communication and planning in meetings, book a no-obligation consultation with our speach coaches.
To download our Top Ten Tips on Confident Speaking and A Comprehensive List of Questions to Communicate Efficiently guidance documents, visit our Resources Hub.
This article was updated in June 2021.