11 Must Do’s For Better Meetings


This week and last week I have been delivering a customized version of our Meetings That Rock in webinar format to a group of managers in Alaska who are motivated to improve the way their meetings are conducted.  One of the handouts we provide them is on the 11 steps of participatory meetings.  I thought I would share it with you as well since we have to sit in and lead a lot of meetings.  See below for your Free PDF download.

1. Set Context

All this  means is that at the very beginning of your meeting, tell people the purpose of the meeting, the topics for the meeting and the timing for each topic. Also explain the processes you will use so they will know how they will be involved.  Throughout the meeting, each time a new topic is introduced be sure to tell them again why you are talking about this topic, how long you will talk about it and what is a specific product you need from them on this specific topic.

2. Set Positive Emotional State

When people are positive, they are far more likely to be productive.  This has been scientifically proven.  How do you set up a positive emotional state?  Some of the ways I do this is to enhance the physical space of the meeting room.  I might bring in a plant, a beautiful table cloth, declutter the surrounding areas, and have some healthy snacks.  Beauty and order together tend to create a space that looks “well cared for”.  You might also have the group begin with sharing something positive or appropriate humor.

3. Set Group Guidelines

We often forget to create ground rules in our regular meetings.  You can have the group come up with their own or you can provide them with a starter list.  One of my favorites that I have borrowed from the Institute of Culture Affairs is, “Everyone will hear and be heard”.  Other typical ones are “Share Openly”, “Silence Your Cell Phone”, “Arrive on Time”, etc.

4. Begin With High Priority Agenda Items

Many meetings start with “consent items”, approval of the last meeting minutes, and smaller topics that may not be of the highest interest and priority to the group.  Look at your next agenda, and decide what is the topic that really needs the most attention on that day.  Put that as the first item on the agenda after a quick check-in or warm up.  That uses the groups most productive time on the most important agenda item.

5. Discuss Emotional Items When Energy Is High

Similar to the point above, there may be one or two agenda items that you anticipate will generate conflict or negative emotions.  It is best once again, to put these items early in your agenda. This will ensure that you have peoples best thinking for these more difficult topics.

6. Break Into Small Groups

You probably just need to read my earlier blog, “Just Say Yes to Small Groups”.  Bottom line:  Trust that it does not take more time and it produces better engagement and richer thinking if you allow people to share their “draft” thinking in a small group rather than occupy the air time of the entire group with this preliminary thinking.

7. Ask Open-Ended Questions

We often forget to convert our closed questions to open ended questions.  If you ask, “Do you agree with this?”, what is the likelihood that people will feel safe enough to say, “No, I do not agree with this.”  Ask instead the open ended version of this which might be, “What about this recommendation feels right?” and “What about it needs work?”  Observe yourself and try to catch every time you ask a closed question.

8. Provide Self-Reflection Opportunities

When you send out the agenda ahead of time, it gives everyone a chance to think about the topics discussed.  When you give people 2 or 3 minutes to think about a presentation at the meeting and jot down their thoughts, this gives everyone a chance to be engaged.  The quieter participants may feel more likely to offer their thoughts with the whole group if you give them regular self reflection opportunities.

9. Provide Visuals

I know this sounds ridiculously simple, however, how many meetings have we been to this week where there was no written agenda, no flipcharted notes, no photos, images or graphs to help you understand the problem, the data, the situation.  One neuroscientist said that 80% of our processing is visual.  Help you meeting participants use their natural processing modes!

10. Encourage Brief Yet Relevant Stories

The sharing of stories in a meeting does a number of things.  It helps connect people to the storyteller.  It sets up a positive emotional state (see earlier point), and it can be tremendously helpful to helping the group understand a problem or the topic.  For example, you might ask the question, “Who has a short story that would illustrate what we are trying to achieve?”  Be sure to pause after you ask the question because it may take a minute or so for a person to think of a story.

11. Keep Action Item List Visible and Facilitate Decision-Making

Last but not least…as you go through each agenda topic, be sure to have the white board or flipchart handy to visually jot down next steps, or decision that the group has made.  Wherever a decision can be made by the group, do it.  It will energize your meetings and help your participants feel that the meeting was worth attending.

Do you have any to add?

What other steps would you offer to make your meetings go better?  Consider making a list for yourself using this FREE PDF list as a starter.  To remind you to do these things on a regular basis, post this where you can quickly review.  Bring it with you to every meeting.  I guarantee your meetings will go better!






Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.


  1. Simba on November 26, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    Begin With High Priority Agenda Items
    i have a question to ask Barb : if the meeting process has it’s own order, such as a PSP , we must guide the group one by one , so how to understand this rule? thanks.

    • Barbara Mackay on January 14, 2015 at 3:05 pm

      HI Simba – you are referring to PSP – the Technology of Participation (ToP) Participatory Strategic Planning Model which has a very specific sequence or order of processes. I love this model for strategic planning.It is used when the group needs a long term broad plan because of many changes in the organization. This usually only happens every 3-5 years. In this article, I am referring to a typical weekly meeting where there may be 5-10 agenda items. I suggest that it is best to put the most important items early in the agenda. Instead, what typically happens in weekly meetings, is that we start with a random list of agenda items.. Thus, meeting attendees spend a lot of energy and time discussing the early items because they have energy then. When they do get to the most important item, their ability to think clearly may be less and it does not get the quality of thinking needed. Hope this helps Simba.

      • Simba on February 2, 2015 at 1:27 pm

        thanks. Barb . I got it.

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