024 – How to Run a Meeting – and not waste everyone’s time

024 – How to Run a Meeting – and not waste everyone’s time

A lot of Project Management is about communicating and managing people. And one of our most frequently used tools for this is the meeting. In this episode we share some tips our best practices for making meetings productive – and not wasting yours and everyone else’s time.

Based on popular demand, Kate and Kim share some of their top productivity tips for running an effective meeting that doesn’t waste everyone’s (including your) time


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Show Notes

Today, we will be sharing tips and tricks which every Project Managers should to know on how to effectively run a meeting. We will spend the rest of the episode talking through how to set yourself up for success by focusing on the Do’s and Don’ts, with juicy suggestions on how to handle difficult meetings. Let’s begin with a few pitfalls to avoid.

Don’t run a meeting IF [3:39]

  • A hallway conversation could get you what you need
  • You don’t have an agenda, or you’re not clear about what you need to talk about
  • You have nothing to talk about and just want to stick with scheduled meeting time to build a “habit”
  • You know in your heart it will be a complete waste of time
  • You can just get it done via IM, Skype, or phone call

You should have a meeting IF [5:34]

  • You are just building a relationship – It is best to have a face-to-face meeting and then go ‘virtual’ once you know each other.
  • You’ve got an email thread that has become a mess and …
    • You’re going over 2 or 3 responses
    • People aren’t getting the point (you or them)
    • Emotions are coming into play

What makes a good meeting? [8:38]

A meeting is a powerful tool to get stuff done, come to an agreement, remove roadblocks, or to inform stakeholders. But, meetings can also be a waste of everyone’s time, which is precisely why you need to make sure you have a good reason for having a meeting, and that you do it right.

You need to be prepared and to send invites and the right expectations for everyone who will be attending. You need to know what you want out of the meeting. Plus, you need to have a GPD or Goal, Purpose, and Deliverable.

GDP is the framework to have a good agenda. It should also be included on the invites you’ll be sending to all attendees a, and consists of the following:

  • Goal: Your high-level goal of the meeting, for example, “remove a roadblock” or “agree on terms” or “get on the same page”
  • Deliverable: The tangible thing you will leave the meeting with.  This could be the status report, final status report, list of action items, project plan, WBS, budget sheet, etc. All meetings should have a deliverable, even if it’s small. It is your response to  “Why do we have to have this meeting?”
  • Purpose: Use this to narrow down your goal. Example: Remove a roadblock: Discuss a PO or funding that’s not approved The Purpose of the meeting is the “specific” thing you will talk about and why you will talk about it. It should be written clearly and it should set everyone’s expectations for what the meeting will be about.

Have an Agenda [12:08]

Agenda is another tool to run an effective and efficient meeting. As Project Managers, we have to remember that sending out agendas with your meeting invites is a trust brick with your teammates. It is basic common courtesy and respect to people’s time. It doesn’t have to be a formal, 5-page long document- it can have bullet points. But it does need to be appropriate for your audience.

Here’s a suggestion on how calendar invite should look like.

  • Goal, Purpose Deliverable sentence
  • A small bullet list of things to cover – no more than 2-4 for a 30 min meeting and no more than 4-8 for a 60 min meeting
  • Each item should have enough information so that a person who hasn’t thought about your meeting all day would be centered and know what to talk about for that line item
  • Each line item should have an owner for who should be discussing and leading that topic

To stand out, you may also include:

  • Links or attachments of documents that will be reviewed in the meeting
  • A timebox for each line item if you’re with a chatty crowd or you are short on time

It is important that anyone in your company should be able to read your agenda or meeting invite and know what you are attempting to accomplish. Hence, if someone raises a topic that’s off track, you should call them out.

Leading Up To Your Meetings [20:05]

When it comes to sending out your invite and getting people to show up, use all the technology you have. Here’s how you can approach a few tactical things with meetings:

  1. Use a scheduler to make sure you can find time on everyone’s calendar where they are open.
  2. Use your calendar tracking tools to confirm which people are going to attend. You as a PM are paid to make sure that people show up at the meeting.
  3. Follow up with people who haven’t responded, who responded tentative, or key attendees who declined.

If you’ll be using any form of technology, make sure you know how to operate it. It is also important that you test all your tools at least 15 minutes before you start to avoid wasting time.

The Meeting [30:13]

We have become clear on our goal, purpose, and deliverable. We’ve created an agenda and now, finally, you are having a meeting.

The first key here is to start ON TIME. If you have a key person who has not shown up yet, make the call and either wait for few minutes or cancel and reschedule the meeting- don’t sit around and make everybody listen to everybody breath. This is not respectful, and it does not show good decision making.

Set expectations if you will have a grace period. Don’t restart if somebody walked in late, but don’t ignore them either. Welcome the late attendee, and go on with the discussion.

Now that we’ve started our meeting, the next step is: track the attendees!

You can do a quick roll call to track where you have your attendees, and this can be done simply by asking who’s on the line, and then repeat that back to them. The most important part is that you document who’s on the phone, because you need to be able to clearly say who was present for a decision. By announcing themselves, that’s them putting their name in for accountability and visibility. You can make a separate list of who did not show up, and call them out.

Shepherding the Discussion [35:13]

Once your meeting is underway, it’s your job to keep it productive.  Your level of involvement depends on the group of people you’ve got: sometimes you have an eager, interactive group, and sometimes you have a group of strangers in an ambitious task. This is where your agenda comes in.

It is best to start each meeting by repeating the agenda as your first step. Once you’ve got a quorum – that is, enough people on the call to begin the discussion – reiterate the agenda, your goals, and your expected deliverables. Make sure if anyone has something else to bring up, they say it at the beginning of the meeting before you start. Once you’re all on the same page, you can go through each agenda item line by line, sticking to your timetable if need be.

Ending You Meeting [41:06]

You have to respect your coworker’s time. If you run crappy, long, unfocused, goes-over-time meetings, your coworkers will stop making it a priority to come and work with you. One surefire way to lose the respect of your coworkers is to lose track of time and lose track of your meeting.

You can use the last five minutes to recap action items, review decisions, and talk about next touch point. If you’re running out of time, you need to plan ahead. It’s okay to ask people to stay for extra minutes to discuss an important an agenda, but, if some people or situations require hard stop, you should to respect that.

Documentation [44:27]

Minutes are the whole reason you’re doing the meeting. Each meeting deliverables need to be documented so you can take this discussion and never have it again. Meeting minutes have a lot of forms- it can be in a formal template or bullet points under the agenda. They can be posted in SharePoint site or internal collaboration site. And, they can be sent through email or can be saved on your RAID log. The important thing to do is make sure they are socialized. The point is that you capture what you said, send it out for feedback, and make sure that it’s public record post meeting.

Taking detailed notes is a good foundational skill that will help you know everything about your project. There are lots of good technologies to help you record your meetings, but they are never a substitute for your personal notes.

Managing Difficult Meetings [49:01]

The first pitfall that takes some time to pick up on is when to be flexible. Sometimes, you sit down to talk about a topic, and no matter what you do, you can’t get people to stick to your beautiful agenda. It might be that you missed something in getting to a point, or maybe something new developed, and now it’s taking over everyone’s thoughts, and you can’t get away.  

If this is happening to you over and over, you’re probably not preparing correctly for the type of meeting you need to have. But if a meeting just can’t get on track, it is best to call it out, and ask if the group needs to refocus their energy elsewhere.

Another difficult situation is railroading. Don’t be afraid to reclaim your meeting- you can appear very strong in acknowledging off-track points, while also bringing back the focus to the topic of the meeting. This is also why it is important that you do your homework.

Takeaways [56:07]

You may be in trouble IF

  • You haven’t confirmed attendees prior to the meeting
  • People don’t usually show up to your meetings – (maybe it’s you)
  • You continually experience problems in your meetings
  • You’re not documenting the outcomes of your meetings

Principles for Success

  • Be Confident
  • Use your GPD to stay on target.
  • Follow up!

We hope you find this topic as useful as we do. You may also check out our Appetizer on Trust Bricks for additional input on setting an agenda or Episode 19 to learn more about stage direction in the boardroom.

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    Kim Essendrup

    I'm sorry, you are not authorized to view this page. Why not sign up for a membership so you can get access to this and even more content!

    Michael MatuteMichael Matute

    Great episode and a related question: On a project with many people is it acceptable for the PM to schedule or coordinate a meeting, but not attend it due to schedule conflicts or higher priorities….yet ask someone attending or facilitating to create the meeting notes and share them? Or might this split of duties cause confusion?

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