Managing meetings

The secret to being an excellent meeting organiser is having a system that works, and works with ease. We all know that the key to a successful meeting is planning. A wise owl once told me that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. So how do you prepare for a meeting (or five!) without it taking over the rest of your working week?

By Suzanne Brown

Let’s take a look at the three main stages of meeting organisation.

Planning and organising

  • A significant part of meeting planning is scheduling. Whether it’s for five or 50 people, we all know that diary management can be a nightmare. To eliminate the time wasted by finding a slot when the participants and the meeting room are all free at the same time, try having a regular slot for meetings if possible - and circulate a meeting schedule for the next six or 12 months. I like to get in early and book people before their diaries fill up!

  • If you can’t book up early, or have ad-hoc meetings to arrange, why not make full use of technology? It may sound obvious to some, but synchronising everyone’s Outlook calendars is a great way to cut down on planning time. If necessary, ask the reception team to use Outlook calendars for the meeting rooms too - that way you only have to look in one place for all your scheduling information.

  • Distribute the agenda and circulate background material, lengthy documents or articles prior to the meeting. But remember that it’s all about timing. Documentation sent a month in advance will probably end up buried on desks, however sending it a day before the meeting may not give enough preparation time.

  • Develop the agenda together with key people attending the meeting. Think of the overall outcome that you want and what is needed to reach it. Why not try adding a sentence/paragraph at the top of the agenda stating what you want to gain from the meeting? It will give a good reference point and help to stop discussions getting sidetracked.

  • If possible design the agenda so that participants get involved early, by having something for everyone to do, or discuss, right away. Allowing on person to have a half hour spiel at the beginning of every meeting will give some people an excuse to come late as they know they may not miss anything relevant to them.

  • Don’t rely on e-mail for meeting reminders. From past experience, I know it can often save time to give a busy participant a call to remind them of a meeting rather than sending out a routine email reminder, which in most cases will be deleted as soon as it’s read (that’s if it is read!).


  • Ask for only constructive and non-repetitive comments. Keep focused on the topic and try to tactfully end discussions when they are getting nowhere or becoming unproductive – take an active role in the meeting, and manage the time you spend there effectively.

  • To be sure about who said what, make a map of the seating arrangement, and make sure to ask for introductions of unfamiliar people. I always make a point of asking for business cards from outside guests before they leave, then I always have their correct names, job titles and companies.

  • You may be a note-taking whiz, but why not try using a recording machine during important or technical meetings as a backup to your notes? You can then be sure you won’t have any grey areas or sketchy patches in your notes.


  • Always schedule more time in your diary than you expect the meeting to take. That way you’ll have time straight after the meeting to process the minutes when they are fresh in your mind. You can then circulate them within hours of the meeting, not just making yourself look super-efficient, but also cementing the meeting in the minds of the attendees so that they keep any assigned tasks in their thoughts.

  • Does your company have an intranet? Why not use it to your own advantage and put copies of your meeting minutes and agendas on there. It will stop people pestering you for a copy of the minutes or asking you what their actions were over and over again.

  • Take 5-10 minutes at the end to evaluate the meeting – perhaps if it is a large gathering you could ask participants for their feedback and what they would like changed or skipped in the future. Be warned though, you’re likely to get some sarcastic comments, but it may be worth it if you get even one or two useful tips.

  • Meetings can be a very effective and powerful way to communicate and solve issues in a company if managed correctly. Hopefully these tips will help keep your meetings going in the right direction and stop the attendees heading in the direction of the exits!
Suzanne Brown is a freelance secretary, writer and mum. Between nappy changes and sleepless nights she can be found chained to her laptop working on her latest masterpiece...

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