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To Conduct a More Effective Meeting, Focus on the Planning

Jason Wong and Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Aug 11, 2015

10024410205_6c85832b49_zMeetings fill an increasing number of hours in the workday, but for many professionals, they aren’t always worth the effort: In a recent survey of 2,066 employees conducted by Harris Interactive, respondents said they spent 4.5 hours a week in general status meetings, up from 4 hours a week when the poll was conducted four years ago. More telling, though, is that over one-third of respondents called these mandatory powwows a waste of time, with three in five staffers admitting that they tune out or do other work during meetings.

The takeaway? For team leaders, prep work—the thinking and general plan for running a meeting—matters if you want to keep colleagues engaged and make your time together productive. So, how exactly do you conduct an effective meeting that holds everyone’s attention? Here’s what HR experts and Society members had to say.


1. Consider whether you need a meeting in the first place. If the goal is to provide updates, “you can easily accomplish that through group chat or email,” said David M. Rottkamp, chair of the NYSSCPA’s Public Sector Oversight Committee and immediate past chair of the Society’s Not-for-Profit Organizations Committee. “An effective meeting is about accomplishing something—people’s time is valuable,” he added. Indeed, in their book, Meeting Excellence: 33 Tools to Lead Meetings That Get Results, Glenn M. Parker and Robert Hoffman write that if the purpose of a gathering is to simply communicate routine information, there may be an electronic method that gets the same results with much less fuss.

To gauge whether a meeting will or wont be useful, the authors suggest asking yourself this question: “What will happen if the meeting isn’t held?” If the answer is, “Nothing would be missed,” or “There would be a loud cheer throughout the organization,” your next move is clear.

Another useful question to ask is, “Should we meet now?” According to Meeting Excellence, it may be best to postpone a meeting if required information is missing or a critical team member can’t make it.

2. Create an agenda. An agenda is easily one of the most important tools at your disposal for guaranteeing a meeting’s success. Besides being a formal statement of what you’re hoping to accomplish, it’s also a way to ensure that attendees come prepared to participate, said Edward F. Esposito, chair of the NYSSCPA’s Business Valuation Committee. “I circulate it about a week before and use it as an opportunity to ask people for comments and ideas,” he said.

A good rule of thumb is to consider the time parameters for each agenda item, which will help you to keep the meeting running on schedule, said Gail M. Kinsella, an
NYSSCPA past president. That’s important, she added, because if a meeting is set to last an hour, let’s say, you should honor that time frame out of respect for your colleagues.

So that you’re prepared for unrelated topics that might suddenly arise, you can always include time on the agenda for open items, advised Stephen T. Surace, a vice president on the NYSSCPA’s Board of Directors and a past president of the Society’s Utica Chapter.  

 3. Circulate materials in advance. Make sure that any information attendees should review is developed and sent out well before the meeting,” Kinsella said. Then, as the meeting draws closer, follow up to make sure that colleagues have done their homework. “I give a gentle reminder to review the materials in advance and come prepared for discussion or approval,” she added. “If you’re fairly direct, firm and consistent, those who haven’t done the reading get on board pretty quickly.”

 4. Get colleagues talking. Ideally, said Mindi Lowy, chair of the Taxation of Financial Instruments and Transactions Committee, you want to create an atmosphere where everyone feels that he or she can and should contribute. If your co-workers are checking their email or have simply checked out, it could be a sign that the meeting isn’t requiring enough of their participation. “You have to actively solicit opinions and feedback from individuals,” Esposito said.   

As team leader, you should also be prepared to draw out attendees who may have valuable insights but are hesitant to share them, or to keep bigger personalities from sucking up all the air in the room.

“If you have a meeting where there are extraordinarily dominant personalities, certain individuals may not feel comfortable stepping forward with their views, “ Kinsella explained. “Or, if they’re newer board members, sometimes people are reticent. You have to read the room and consider the topic, and if there’s someone who has experiences you feel would be valuable, you might either engage that individual or ask for thoughts or comments.”

With dominant individuals, she added, it’s sometimes best to simply ask them up front what they think and give them the opportunity to speak. Then, thank them and move on from there.

5. Steer colleagues toward subcommittees, when appropriate. Making sure that people stick to the right level of detail in a meeting is a big piece of the puzzle, too, Surace said. He recalled a meeting of a nonprofit board he attended, where another participant began delving into deep-level financial topics. “I interrupted politely and said, ‘Sir, those are topics we talked about in detail at the Finance Committee meeting, and I’d suggest you consider attending those if you have a question on that level.” If a participant wants to do a deeper dive in an area than you had planned for, direct him or her to a more appropriate venue, like a formal or informal subgroup.

 6. Quash side conversations. Though you do want your colleagues’ feedback, multiple side conversations and comments can be distracting, Kinsella said. Try to gently but firmly keep attendees focused on the central issues. For example, if you see colleagues engaged in side chatter, you might say, “It sounds like we have something to discuss at a later date. Let’s make a note of that or get it onto a future agenda,” Kinsella advised.

 7. Follow up. Though the content and presentation of the meeting are critical, so is what follows. According to Meeting Excellence, every meeting should have a strong closing and end on a forward-looking note. Moreover, it’s not uncommon for people to walk away from the same meeting with different interpretations of what happened. To combat this, within a day of the meeting, send out a memo that highlights action steps or the finer points of what was accomplished.

Surace also recommends one-on-one postmeeting outreach as well, whether through direct emails or phone calls. “It’s important to engage people both in the group during the meeting and individually, having one-on-one conversations with them postmeeting,” he said.                                                                                                             


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