Running your own meeting.
Q I RECENTLY started a new job and will be leading my first meeting this month. As I have had no previous experience with this, do you have any advice as I prepare for the "big day"?
A The key to running an effective meeting is planning. If you've ever attended a formal discussion that strayed off topic or ran longer than the allotted time, you've witnessed what can happen when the person in charge hasn't prepared. So, even if you have excellent presentation skills or strong knowledge of the topic at hand, it's worth investing extra time getting ready for the meeting.
Start by creating an agenda. Provide attendees with an outline before the event so they can prepare to address the primary issues. An agenda will give the meeting structure and keep your discussion from straying off topic.
Make sure you begin and end the meeting on time. This demonstrates that you respect everyone's time and discourages people from arriving late. If important topics still need to be discussed but you've run out of time, offer participants the option of continuing or scheduling a second meeting.
Pay attention to how the group interacts. As the facilitator, you should encourage participation from those who may not otherwise express their views during meetings. Also take note if someone seems to have concerns about any aspect of the discussion, and then talk with him or her individually afterwards.
Finally, don't forget to take notes. They will serve as a valuable reminder of action items and help you summarise what happened for those who couldn't attend.
In your new role you will undoubtedly be called upon to lead many more formal discussions. After each meeting, take some time to consider what worked and what didn't so you can continue to refine your techniques. With a little practice and a commitment to planning, you'll be ready to conduct any meeting.
John Dyson is manager of the Birmingham branch of recruitment consultancy Robert Half International. For more details on positions in finance and accounting go to www.roberthalf.co.uk or call 0121 6164 600.