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The 5 W’s of an Effective Meeting

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Meetings are the necessary evil of the working world and with good reason. Many are ill-run, meander, and generally only serve to make people lose time they don’t have. Having an effective meeting is sometimes like finding a four-leaf clover. A rare, very lucky occurrence even when you’re the one setting it up.

I’ve taken inspiration from journalists and listed the 5 Ws of an effective meeting (mentioned in order of importance):


Setting up a meeting with no clear purpose is the worst thing you can do to your co-workers. But even if you have a clear purpose, you need to also make sure that it’s worth everyone’s time. For example, meeting to introduce a new team member is a waste of time: walking him around gets better results and only affects two people.

Also, consider other ways to fulfill your meeting objective. If you’re meeting to inform, would a memo do the job better? If you want to discuss something, can it be done via email? Meetings should only be used as a last resort.


Yes, you have a meeting agenda, but what about it? Prepare a list of relevant talking points and stick to them. Idle chatter and unrelated tangents take up lots of time, so play moderator and keep the chit chat to a minimum. If people want to talk amongst themselves, let them do it at the water cooler. Other people in the meeting may not be interested and would rather get back to work. A good rule of thumb is if it’s not worth taking notes, then don’t talk about it.


For a truly effective meeting, your attendance list should be as carefully crafted as your agenda. Calling a whole team together only to talk to two people is rude and inconsiderate. There should never be any observers in a meeting, only participants. The sole exception is when you’re orienting a new team member.


Timing should never be underestimated. I’ve been too far too many ill-scheduled meetings whose attendees fidget and watch the clock. They’re chasing a deadline, but the meeting proctor is too wrapped up talking about last night’s episode of The Amazing Race to care. As a project manager, you should know how to set up a meeting without impacting your production schedule.


It may seem inconsequential, but the meeting location has a significant impact on how a meeting flows. Stand-up meetings tend to flow faster because they’re more informal and there’s little incentive to linger (no seats to get comfortable on, you see). Sit-down meetings are great for topics that need to be discussed in-depth, and this can be either in informal, intimate places like meeting alcoves and coffee shops, or more formal settings like a conference room. Phone conferences are a mixed bag and really depend on the situation.

The next time you set up a meeting, try to keep the 5 Ws in mind. Are your meetings more effective and efficient? Come back and let us know how it works for you!

Image credit, Flickr, Terence Faircloth

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