Meeting Skills

When was the last time you went to a really GREAT meeting? And by great, I mean useful, but also inspiring, engaging and...dare I say fun?

Unfortunately for us--and for the health of our organizations--most of us can probably count the number of those meetings we've been to on one of our hands.

So how do we capture the special magic of some of those cathartic, inspiring, obstacle-leaping meetings in every meeting? Well, unfortunately there's no silver bullet for getting meetings right.  But as you take a look through the resources listed below, make note of things that seem like they would help the groups you most commonly work with feel more energetic and creative!


A few things you've got to have in order to pull off a passably useful meeting:

  • Pre-work:  If you're the facilitator of a meeting, it's your responsibility to do a little work beforehand.  This means 1) making sure the right people are going to attend to make the decisions that are needed, 2) deciding the specific outcomes the meeting needs to produce, and 3) creating an agenda for the meeting.

  • Meeting: During the meeting, make sure you always, 1) have someone taking notes who is NOT the facilitator, 2) either distribute or review the agenda before or at the beginning of the meeting, and 3) keep everything punctual--people aren't productive if they're being held longer than expected. (FASCINATING FACT: 45 minutes is about as long as someone can stay completely laser-focused in a meeting. Most people will become completely unfocused after 90 minutes, so if your meeting is lasting all day, make sure to provide significant breaks at least every 90 minutes.)

  • Follow-up: Make sure everyone at the meeting gets a copy of the minutes promptly after the meeting takes place.  These minutes should include 1) who was at the meeting, 2) tasks and when they'll be completed and by whom, 3) what was decided at the meeting.

Also, ask yourself: do we even need to meet? Time is money, after all!

Don’t call a meeting if:

  • You can’t state a purpose.

  • You are unprepared.

  • You have already made a decision.

  • It is just the routine.

Do have a meeting if you:

  • Need a group decision (set up the room using tables and chairs).

  • Have a problem to solve (place chairs in a circle).

  • Need to brainstorm (consider comfort in location and set-up).

  • Need group support for an action.


Some things to take into consideration:

How decisions are made.  This article talks about three different models board use to make decisions and the relative drawbacks and merits of each. This article by our favorite nonprofit guru, Andy Robinson, talks about operating on consensus vs. parliamentary procedure (or Roberts Rules of Order). This is a how-to on parliamentary procedure.

How to spice up the conversation.  This article talks about basic ways you can improve your meetings.