Additionally, you may need to assign logistical roles. Prepare your participants. Tell them if you expect them to speak on a particular topic. Ask someone to be the scribe or note-taker if necessary, or request that someone do a product demonstration. The key is using your resources; in a meeting, your resources are the people in the room with you!
I would strongly suggest sending out a meeting agenda beforehand, at least to the people who will be giving presentations. You will run a better meeting if you have worked out beforehand what the content is, how the content of the meeting will be discussed, and in what order. Announce who will be in attendance, the time, date, duration, and what preparation needs to be done before you get started.
Set ground rules for participation. Because not every meeting is the same, participants need to understand the expectations of them during this meeting. Develop them as a group, or prepare them ahead of time. The ground rules help guide the group toward your desired results. They become the commandments for participant behavior. They are a vehicle for the meeting chairperson to use to gently adjust behaviors back in a direction that works. Here are some sample ground rules:
Only one person talks at a time.
Avoid side conversations.
Write down questions to ask after the speaker has finished.
Set aside last fifteen minutes for next steps and responsibilities.
Depending on the organization and the event, ground rules might be more formal. In very large groups, parliamentary rules can be extremely useful to maintain order and keep the participants on track. If you plan to have formal rules, it is a good idea to post them, or include them in a handout, as it allows you, the chairperson, to refer back to them for control.
The length of the meeting should always decrease as the number of your attendees increases. Let’s look at the dynamics of this. The larger the audience, the less the members can actively participate in the meeting. They are mostly listening, and listening efficiency drops dramatically over time. So the rule is: With big audiences, hold short meetings.
Small “problem-solving” meetings can be longer. When the participants know why they are there, how they are expected to participate, and what the goal of the meeting is, longer meetings can actually accomplish more. Because problem-solving meetings are small, and, hence, more intimate, people stay involved and build off of each other’s ideas.
Albert Einstein, a brilliant thinker by anyone’s standards, says this about problem solving:
“The significant problems we face today cannot be resolved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
In a problem-solving meeting, ideas need to evolve into solutions, and that takes time. This is time well-spent if the participants can come up with a satisfactory solution to a difficult issue. And, guess who gets credit for that solution? Yes, the participants, but also the talented meeting leader who ran the meeting so well!