How to run a meeting

A framework for effective, productive meetings.

Meetings can either be extremely valuable — or a complete waste of time.

If there’s one I’ve learned during the (almost) two years of remote work, it’s how to run an effective meeting.

Given Zoom-fatigue and the lack of work-life separation we face today, meetings should be more intentional, purposeful, and objective-driven than before.

I’ll go through how I run meetings and break down the mechanics for effective, productive meetings below.

Scroll to the bottom for a TL;DR / Quick Guide.

I’ll go over three sections:

Pre-Meeting

During Meeting

Post-Meeting

Pretty self explanatory.

  

Pre-Meeting

🗒️ Intention & Agenda

First – consider: do we even need a meeting?

  • Can we solve this asynchronously?

  • Will it be easier to communicate via documentation or email?

Keep this in mind as you read through the next few sections.

 

Broadly, there are 4 outputs from meetings:

  1. Share information — cascading information to others, answering questions, and providing new knowledge.

  2. Make decisions — weighing upsides and downsides of decisions, sharing point-of-views, and coming to a decision.

  3. Achieve alignment — getting all stakeholders to agree on a subject.

  4. Discuss ideas & feedback — brainstorming new concepts, sharing retroactive feedback, and creative problem-solving.

I’m missing a few here that include team building, and community and skills development, but those are less operational so I’ll exclude them for now.

Personally, I think that majority of brainstorming work should be done offline and asynchronously. We require deep work to come up with good ideas meeting environments usually aren’t conducive to that. But if pre-work is programmed in, they can be effective.

Each agenda item in a meeting should map to one of these outputs.

Sample agenda:

1. [Share] Marketing Campaign 9/23 Updates

  • Andrew to share updates on campaign targets, goals, and spend (5 min)

2. [Decide] Product Communications Tactics

  • Sarah to present 3 options for communication tactics (5 min)

3. [Align] Q3 Product Roadmap Prioritization

  • Jim to lead product roadmap review and ensure all stakeholders are aligned with priorities (10 min)

4. [Discuss] Feedback on Q2 Tools

  • Jane to drive retroactive feedback session on Q2 tools workstream (5 min)

Be purposeful with your agenda.

 

🙋‍♂️ Attendees

Who will be involved? What role will each person play? Use the RACI framework (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed).

For example:

  • You may be running the meeting and are responsible for the work effort.

  • Your manager may be accountable for the work result.

  • Your cross-functional partners may be there to offer a perspective on how it impacts their segment and are consulted.

  • Your skip (manager of manager) may just be there to be informed on how progress is.

Each individual will play a different part in the meeting according to these expectations.

How many people will be in the meeting? Keep in mind Amazon’s Two Pizza Rule:

No meeting should be so large that two pizzas can’t feed the entire group.

It’s difficult to involve all participants in engaging discussion if the group is larger than 8.

If the intention is purely to share information, can it be recorded or live-streamed later? Can someone take meeting notes and share a recap?

Seek opportunities to minimize live meeting time and give people time back.

⌛ Timing & Format

I schedule my meetings to start at either :05 or :35. This gives folks an additional 5 minutes to take a break or dial-in, if they’re back-to-back. Ending a meeting hardly early ever works.

95% of my meetings are 25 minutes long. The remaining 5% are around 40 minutes. I barely have any meetings that go over an hour.

You start to lose someone’s attention at around 20 minutes. Longer meetings should be reserved for all-hands and other more passive, information-sharing type meetings.

Parkinson’s Law (or it’s inverse) holds true here:

Work expands or contracts to fill the time available for its completion.

Keep meetings tight.

 

💼 Materials

Pre-reads should be sent at least 24 hours ahead of the meeting to ensure participants have a chance to familiarize themselves with their material and develop a point-of-view.

Context and details to provide participants a baseline understanding of the subject should be included. This is information that doesn’t necessarily need to be communicated live.

At Amazon, meetings start with each attendee sitting and silently reading a “six-page, narratively-structured memo” for about the first half of the meeting.


During Meeting

👩‍🎓 Attendee Roles

Generally, meetings have 3 roles:

  • Leader / Driver

  • Participant

  • Recorder (optional).

The leader or driver owns the meeting and the work required during both the pre-meeting preparation phase and post-meeting action items.

  • The leader should be comfortable leading the participants through the agenda items and facilitating discussion.

  • The leader is responsible for the overall atmosphere of the meeting, and that it’s positive, safe, and productive.

Participants contribute to meeting discussion and agenda items.

Recorders are optional roles that can take notes, livestream, or record meetings if the leader does not have the bandwidth to perform these duties while driving the meeting.

 

🗣️ Introductions & Context

To kick-off the meeting, these items should be communicated first:

  • Introductions

  • Why we’re having this meeting and what the goal is

  • Agenda overview

For newer, less established meetings and groups, introductions should be done prior to jumping into the material. If time is tight, the meeting driver should take the lead in making the introductions.

 

📝 Notes

Do not forget to take notes.

I used to be guilty of this. Unless you have a photogenic memory (fewer than 100 people in the world do) — take notes.

Here’s a simple template you can use to capture meeting notes:

  • Key summary points from each agenda item — discussion, outcomes, and takeaways

  • Action items — proposed actions and pending items

  • Ideas — ideas and questions that you have during the session


Post-Meeting

✅ Summary & Next Steps

Send out an overview of the meeting summary and next steps within 24-48 hours after the meeting,

  • Capture summary points from each agenda item, action items, and additional ideas (see framework above)

  • Assign accountability to each action item

  • Determine the need for a follow-up discussion or regular cadence

This ensures that the meeting contents are actionable and top-of-mind and participants will appreciate this.


Conclusion & Quick Guide

You’ll realize that most of the time and energy is spent in preparation for the meeting.

If you’re intentional and diligent in preparing for the meeting, your meeting will likely go smoothly.

I’ve included a TL;DR below for you to refer back to.

For further reading, check out this article: The Ultimate Guide to Running Executive Meetings — 25 Tips for Top Startup leaders.

  

✔️ Quick Guide

Pre-Meeting

  • Consider: do we even need a live meeting for this? Time is valuable — give time back where possible.

  • Be intentional with your agenda ahead of time. Agenda items should map to one of these outcomes: Share Information, Make decisions, Achieve alignment, Discuss ideas & feedback

  • Decide who to include in the meeting and what role each individual should play.

  • Design the timing and format meeting. Keep meetings under an hour and ideally under 30 minutes. Consider starting 5 minutes after to give folks a break.

  • Send pre-reads at least 24 hours ahead of time.

During Meeting

  • Start with introductions and high-level context.

  • Ensure you know what your role as a meeting leader / driver entails. Consider assigning a recorder.

  • TAKE NOTES. Summarize key points from each agenda item, action items, and ideas.

Post-Meeting

  • Send out your polished notes and next steps within 24-48 hours after the meeting.

  • Assign accountability for each action item.

  • Determine the need for follow-up meetings.


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