A wide shot of a large white room filled with about twenty people sitting in black chairs. The chairs and their occupants are facing away from the viewer and toward the front of the room, where a man in a white button-up shirt, black tie, and khaki pants is holding a microphone and standing in front of a projector screen.
For large meetings with participants from many different departments, make sure the topics of discussion are relevant to everyone in attendance. — Getty Images/Georgijevic

Meetings can get easily derailed by distractions, poor planning, or, in the case of remote meetings, technical issues. And the larger the number of participants, the higher the likelihood that the meeting will get off track and fail to achieve the primary objective.

Whether you’re working with a large group of stakeholders or simply planning a town hall meeting for your entire company, these tips can help you create a meeting agenda that leads to a productive gathering.

Ask for input before the meeting

Whether you’re inviting four or forty people, ask participants to send in agenda items that reflect their needs. This strategy helps ensure the meeting is relevant to everyone in the room and keeps attendees engaged. Team members should also send in the reason why their suggested agenda item needs to be addressed in a team setting. With this information, you can be more discerning about who needs to be in the room and who you can work with separately to get their needs addressed.

Choose an off-site location

For big all-company gatherings, consider moving your meeting out of the office. “When you get your staff away from their typical workspace, it puts them in a different frame of mind and allows them to better absorb the information that’s presented,” wrote Square.

Taking the team off-site can bring new energy into the presentation and help ensure the meeting is effective. This won’t be possible for all gatherings of large groups, but switching it up every so often can refresh everyone’s daily routine. It’s also an opportunity to enforce company culture and boost morale.

[Read more: 7 Best Practices for Hybrid Staff Meetings]

Discuss topics relevant to everyone

Time is valuable, and in addition to asking for input before the meeting, you should only use team meeting time to make decisions on issues that impact everyone. Big group meetings are ideal for coordinating resources and actions among different parts of the organization. For instance, how can the sales and marketing teams allocate shared resources? What are some ways to reduce customer service response times?

“If the team isn’t spending most of the meeting talking about interdependent issues, members will disengage and ultimately not attend,” wrote Harvard Business Review.

“When you get your staff away from their typical workspace, it puts them in a different frame of mind and allows them to better absorb the information that’s presented,” wrote Square.

It can be helpful to frame your meeting agenda as a series of questions to be answered by the end of the meeting. Questions can help meeting participants start brainstorming before the meeting and also allow the moderator to keep the team on track during the session.

[Read more: 3 Expert Strategies for Productive Meetings]

Delegate a point person for each agenda item

Get participants involved by designating different people to lead the discussion on different agenda items. The person who suggested the discussion point doesn’t necessarily need to be the point person. If you’re running a town hall meeting, it can be motivating for your employees to hear from different leaders in the company.

At other meetings with large groups, you should have someone provide context for the topic and encourage stakeholders to weigh in with opinions or ideas. Let individuals know before the meeting that they will be leading the discussion to allow plenty of time to prepare.

Leave with an action plan

Some meetings are informative, like an all-hands quarterly update sharing your business goals with the rest of your team. Other meetings require some decision-making and consensus to move toward a business objective. Regardless, every meeting should end with a commitment to next steps.

An action plan should answer, “Who will do what by when?” At an all-hands meeting, this might be a three-month plan for hiring or cutting expenses, along with a decision on the key leaders in charge of these goals. At a smaller team meeting, spend the final minutes of your session delegating among participants. Set clear deadlines to make sure there’s a way to measure whether or not the meeting was effective. That way, your meeting makes demonstrable progress, rather than simply distributing responsibility with no clear outcome.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published October 26, 2022