How to Design an Effective Planning Meeting

Effective planning meetings can set your branch or state up for success, while ineffective meetings can leave you frustrated and directionless. So how do you make sure your meetings are fun and effective? Try the tips and tools below to lead your board to success.

Elements of Effective Meetings

As you plan for your meeting, you should always keep attendees’ points of view front and center, and aim for your attendees to feel these four things when the meeting adjourns:

  • The meeting was consequential.

    Structure this time around important decisions you need to make and discussions that are critical in moving projects forward. Save report backs and updates for e-mail and take-home handouts.

  • The meeting was efficient.

    Maximize your time by asking attendees to prepare for discussions or read over documents ahead of time so that you can fast forward through getting everyone up to speed. The more time efficient the attendees feel the meeting was, the more likely they are to return.

  • I mattered.

    Each attendee’s voice should be a part of the conversation and the decision making. Use diverse activities and discussion formats to draw out the perspectives and ideas of all attendees. The more they get to contribute, the more bought in and excited they will be to take on responsibility.

  • I know what happens next.

    Make sure to set concrete next steps for projects with a plan for follow-up.

Your Role as Facilitator

Being the meeting facilitator does not mean you have to do everything yourself. But here’s what you should do to make sure the meeting is consequential, efficient, and inclusive.

  • Have a strong agenda.

    Invite attendees to contribute items to the agenda ahead of time. Ask specific attendees to help lead or facilitate sections. Asking someone to lead a section builds leadership and investment in making the meeting a success.

  • Engage participants in meaningful ways.

    Be aware of who is contributing to conversations and who is not, and explore ways to invite the quiet folks to share their ideas. You may find that changing the format — for example, creating opportunities for people to share in pairs or to get up and interact with the material — will bring out new voices.

  • Keep the group on track.

    Make sure the goals of the meeting are met and that the conversation doesn’t veer off course.

Anatomy of an Effective Meeting

Follow this format to ensure your meeting is a success.

1. Welcome and Overview of Meeting Purpose

Start your meeting by welcoming everyone and thanking them for coming. Share the agenda and goals for the meeting — what will be accomplished by the end? What decisions will be made? Where will the group advance to in the larger process? This will help the group focus on the topics at hand.

2. Icebreaker

Include an icebreaker in every meeting. Choose your icebreaker based on your specific need: to help strangers make new connections, to strengthen relationships, to prepare the group mentally for the topic to be discussed, or to energize a group that may be tired or unfocused. You can find icebreakers for in-person meetings as well as for virtual meetings in the Designing Effective Meetings guide (PDF).

3. Community Agreements

Now that your attendees are warmed up, engage the whole group in ensuring that the rest of the meeting is productive and inclusive. Community agreements are norms for how the group will interact with each other when working together. The agreements do not need to be discussed each meeting after they are set, but you may want to reference them on your agenda to keep them fresh in people’s minds. More information on setting community agreements can be found in the Designing Effective Meetings guide (PDF).

4. Discussions

Go beyond “so, what do you think?” As a meeting facilitator, it is very easy to fall back on simply posing a big question to the group and waiting for answers. However, creative discussion builds buy-in and helps bring every voice forward. The more people feel a part of the process, the more they feel ownership. Different activities and formats can create space for people with different thinking and learning styles to contribute meaningfully. Research has shown that groups achieve a higher level of success when diverse voices are engaged in the process. You will find a list of different discussion activities and formats to try in the Designing Effective Meetings guide (PDF).

5. Decisions

At this point in your meeting, you have had a robust discussion on an important topic. Does the group need to make a decision? If so, If so, check out various methods for making decisions, found in the Designing Effective Meetings guide (PDF).

6. Action Items and Closing

Before you adjourn, make sure you reiterate action items by solidifying the task, who is going to do it, when it will be done, and how the person responsible will report back on it.

Download the PDF Designing Effective Meetings guidePDF — 1 MB

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This post was written by AAUW member leadership training and program manager Erica Stout.