Meetings are an important aspect of all marketing initiatives, but what makes a meeting effective? What elements are necessary for a meeting to run smoothly? Check out this 10-step guide for ways to improve the experience and outcome of your next team meeting.

Step 1 – Plan, Plan, Plan

Be prepared. Think it through and anticipate needs. Proper preparation always pays off, and results in a more successful meeting. Make sure logistics are clearly communicated in advance: meeting time, location, conference line dial information, duration of meeting, which team members will be in attendance, what materials will be discussed during the meeting, etc. Let people know the topic in advance so they are prepared to contribute to the discussion. Send relevant materials beforehand to ensure everyone is on the same page for the meeting.

Come prepared. Bring printouts of materials; be ready to pull up a relevant web address or other digital documents. Ask participants to come to the meeting prepared with specific items if necessary.

You know the saying: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail…

Step 2 – Start on time / End on time!

Respecting other people’s time is extremely important. Show your team that you value their time by starting promptly and, most importantly, ending the meeting on time. If attendees know the meeting won’t run late, chances are you’ll have increased focus and participation throughout the meeting. Be sensitive to the frustration most people have when they feel their time is being wasted.

Time of day can affect the meeting too. If your meeting is late in the day, try bringing in some healthy snacks for the team to enjoy. Ease the pain of a less-than-ideal meeting time with options like fruit, nuts and veggies. It may sound simple, but brain food goes a long way to boost the collective mood. Food = creative fuel.

Step 3 – Eliminate Distractions

It’s okay to ask the team to not use their cell phones during the meeting. Yes, you risk sounding like a flight attendant, but the more focused your team is, the more efficient, effective and shorter the meeting (time is money!). You’ve already assembled your team of heavy hitters, so it’s time to get inside their heads! You want people absorbed, attentive and engrossed in the meeting and contributing to it. If someone is reading emails, they are not 100% engaged in the meeting.

Step 4 – Follow the Agenda

Organization is an easy way to achieve desired outcomes. Lead the meeting with defined expectations and what is expected as a result of the meeting. Create an agenda to build out structure for the meeting. Basically, have a clear purpose and stick to the agenda. Meetings can be valuable and productive, but if a meeting doesn’t accomplish what it was supposed to, it’s easy for the team to feel like it was a waste of time. If it’s not you – define a leader to run the meeting. Effective, efficient meetings leave team members feeling productive, ready to embark on the plan and excited about the work.

Step 5 – Get to the Point!

Keep it moving! Get your point across. Speak in headlines to grab people’s attention. Then explain further to give the group more insight and clarity on your point. Too often people waste valuable time with extensive set up and explanation that’s unnecessary.

Step 6 – Build On Ideas

Encourage active participation from everyone in attendance. No idea is a bad idea. Expand on each other’s ideas. BRAINSTORM! Also, it’s important to keep in mind that people contribute the most when they have room to be themselves and function the way in which they are accustomed. Remember there are several ways to get to a goal: 6 + 3 = 9, but so does 5 + 4.

Step 7 – No Side Talk

Keep the discussions timely, useful and relevant.

Discuss one topic at a time. Following this thought, don’t get too sidetracked on tangents. Distraction from side issues could risk losing control of the meeting altogether. As the meeting leader, ask yourself: does this need to be resolved to continue this meeting? If not, then write it down as a sidebar and continue on with the meeting’s agenda.

Use time wisely: if one issue is monopolizing the meeting and no consensus can be made, move on and agree to regroup at a later date. Don’t let the whole meeting get derailed by one item!

Step 8 – Take Good Notes!

Take good notes or designate a note-taker in advance. Use your agenda as an outline to take notes to disseminate to the team after the meeting. Send follow up meeting or call notes highlighting what was accomplished. The notes should be brief, specific and have clear, actionable items defined for next steps. This will ensure the whole team is on the same page and can easily refer back to anything from the meeting they may need to reference.

Step 9 – Clearly Define Next Steps

You want all team members to leave the meeting with the same takeaway. Document the responsibilities, tasks and associated deadlines to ensure everyone is on the same page. Outline a clear plan of next steps and make sure everyone leaves knowing the agreed-upon next steps and who is responsible for accomplishing them. Schedule the next milestone on the spot. Whether it is a deliverables due date or setting the next meeting date if applicable – have the next date lined up.

Step 10 – Thank Everyone for Their Time

When people feel valued and appreciated they are motivated to continually be invested in the project.  This will make participants feel important and get a sense that what they do really matters, which in turn contributes to a great team environment.