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20 Tips for Successful Meetings

Co-authored by Joe Navarro and Anne-Maartje Oud


KEY POINTS

  • When it comes to meetings, according to Anne-Maartje Oud, “Know your role, know your goal.”

  • Rehearse important presentations in a virtual environment for timing, content, brevity and quality.

  • Improve virtual presentations with good lighting, studio-quality microphones, and a background that does not distract.


Conducting meetings is an art form, and highly effective ones don’t just happen. How we prepare for meetings and how we conduct them makes a big difference. Here are 20 useful tips curated from our experience and from talking to industry leaders.


  1. As my colleague and co-writer of this post, Anne-Maartje Oud often counsels businesspeople, “Know your role, know your goal.” This is key to effective meetings. Once you and others know your individual roles, it makes for better, more concise meetings and will help everyone to prepare.

  2. Meetings should start on time. This is a common complaint. The conscientious are appreciative, and the habitually late will get the message.

  3. Be prepared. It sounds repetitive, but it’s a frequent complaint even though attendees were told what the meeting was about ahead of time. When asked how a project is going, that question should not be a surprise. This is not a time for hesitation. Jump in immediately with succinct observations and details.

  4. Virtual and hybrid meetings are now common, and extra skills are needed to make sure that when you have a hybrid meeting, all attendees get attention and don’t assume those viewing remotely are getting the information as easily as your live audience. Look at both the people in the room and at the camera. If you are conducting the meeting, make sure you ask people online if they want to add something more often than the people in the room. Arrange to have someone collect questions from remote viewers as you speak so that they can be addressed without distracting you.

  5. Sudden movements, even fidgeting, can be very distracting as our brains, for survival reasons, orient on them and should be avoided. As you listen to others, speak, and use your facial expressions to let them know you are engaged, tilting your head to the side, or nodding in approval, also demonstrates you are attentive. The worst thing you can do, according to Abbie Maroño, Director of Education at Social-Engineer, “is show[ing] no emotional expressivity. The brain [searches] for positive intentions cues, showing none should be avoided.”

  6. Important presentations in a virtual or hybrid environment should be rehearsed for timing, content, and quality. The burden is now on the presenter to be more concise and engaging as well as compelling in order to hold the attention of viewers. Think about Ted Talks and how they are performed in 15 minutes or less. Content needs to move along more quickly, and PowerPoint presentations should be interesting, dynamic, and succinct with minimal words.

  7. Virtual presentations are improved with good lighting, studio-quality microphones, and a background that does not distract. Also, make sure you look at the camera lens and not the screen.

  8. In a live setting, give ample space to others and don’t crowd them at the table. Space equates with comfort while crowding almost always equates with psychological discomfort. Don’t put laptops, phones, and files in front of you in a disorganized manner. It looks sloppy and will affect the space of others and, therefore, their comfort. Also, from our own research, we are now sitting on average about 10 inches further from each other (either side) than pre-COVID, even among colleagues familiar to us.

  9. Be ready to respond immediately and without hesitation when asked questions in meetings. Equivocation, speech errors, throat-clearing, project lack of confidence, or lack of preparation.

  10. Use your hands to emphasize but also to demark what is important. We like seeing hands and gestures so long as they are not fast and distracting. Virtually you might have to adjust the broadness of your gestures due to the camera's limits.

  11. Be attentive to turn yielding. Giving others the opportunity to speak on a timely basis. This is especially crucial in a virtual or hybrid setting when it is difficult to see others remotely.

  12. Never hesitate to lower your voice to get everyone’s attention.

  13. Sometimes it is hard for people on either side of you at a long table to see you. Try this trick to help others see you as you speak. Pull away slightly from the table so that others on either side can see you. You may find those immediately next to you and will also pull back so that everyone has a line of view.

  14. Through active listening, give credit for what others have said and echo their words. This garners respect, and it establishes an empathetic link at a subconscious level that says they really understand me.

  15. Be attentive to questions when they are asked, how they are asked, and the words used. Some people ask questions to push their agenda or to convey emotional luggage. Others use it to shine a light on specific issues or to demonstrate what is important to them. What is asked is as important as why it was asked at that moment.

  16. Get in the habit of taking notes, even if they are merely a few words. Our minds are frail. Remember, whoever keeps the best record usually wins. If you are a junior member of an organization, definitely be seen taking notes.

  17. If you have to take an important phone call, which should not happen too often, place the person on hold and take the call outside the room. Similarly, limit texting to a minimum. What appears harmless to you may be distracting and irritating to others.

  18. Along with knowing your role and goals, plan on creating an environment of psychological comfort. We communicate best when there is a high degree of psychological comfort. As George M. Logothetis, executive chairman of the Libra Group, recently said to business students at the University of Miami, “never underestimate the power of being liked.” We would only add to remember the power of a smile and good manners.

  19. Meetings need not be tedious. Value everyone’s time. Everyone that needs to be heard should be heard, but that doesn’t mean they should not be succinct.

  20. If the meeting begins to derail, don’t wait till it’s over. Bring it to the group's attention and get back on track with the goal in mind.

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