The VHMA Files: Meeting expectations

Stretch yourself to plan meaningful meetings.
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Nov 01, 2013

I like meetings, as long as they’re well-organized and focused and take place within a specified time frame. Meetings are a way to network, learn about the latest trends, troubleshoot and share important lessons with colleagues. As managers, employees and association members, we participate in staff meetings, membership meetings, executive meetings and more. However, not all meetings are productive. Some are disorganized and unfocused. To ensure the meetings you host benefit all participants, consider these nine meeting musts:

1. Manage meeting details. Participants become frustrated and disenfranchised when meeting dates, times or locations are up in the air or aren’t posted in a timely manner. Make sure participants receive adequate notification and know which topics you will discuss. Provide an opportunity for invitees to pass along additional agenda items before the meeting.

2. Set a time limit. Notify participants how long the meeting will take. If you’re leading the meeting, allocate sufficient time for each item and notify attendees when the discussion is in danger of exceeding the time limit.

3. Be sensitive. Agree in advance how you will handle confidential and sensitive information. Consider these issues:

• Confidentiality. Participants need the freedom to share challenges, lessons learned and other details without worrying that the information will make it out to the public or back to their team. For example, a manager may want to solicit advice about an employee’s behavior or performance. To protect all parties, participants must agree that whatever is shared at the meetings will remain confidential.

• Participation. Who will most likely facilitate discussions within the group? When you choose to invite specific job titles, avoid instigating professional rivalry and explain you’re working with smaller groups to keep discussions focused and relevant.

• Decision-making. Determine whether all participants have equal input or if decisions will rest in the hands of one person. When the meeting convenes, make your expectations clear. For example, “Today we will discuss issue X. Please share your insights and recommendations. As the meeting concludes, we will summarize the discussion and present the results to the powers that be for action.” On the other hand, the meeting leader may say, “Today we will discuss issue Y, ask each of you for feedback and then decide by consensus the direction in which we will proceed.”

 4. Choose your space. Identify a convenient, quiet and comfortable site with few distractions. At times, hosting a meeting off-site may decrease the possibility of disruptions. When you absolutely, positively require the undivided attention of participants, consider a meeting room in a local hotel or a private space in the public library. These are just a few of the many off-site meeting possibilities.

5. Get tech-savvy. Technology can help to enhance any meeting. It never hurts to have access to a screen, laptop and projector for videos and audiovisual presentations. 6. Select a speaker. A great speaker can make any meeting better. Look to these resources when you’re conducting your speaker search:

• Company representatives can offer valuable talks on relevant subjects, but guard against allowing the meetings to turn into “lunch and learns” that are simply product promotions.

• Specialty hospitals or teaching hospitals may have upper managers, such as human resources personnel, inventory specialists, triage teams or financial managers who could bring value to your meeting.

• Look outside the veterinary profession. You’ll be surprised how many professionals are willing to speak to a group of managers just for the opportunity to network and showcase their talent in hopes of future business. Examples include life coaches, counselors in grief and compassion fatigue, mentors, insurance agents, local labor and industry officials or your local OSHA office.

• Your local city or state veterinary medical association can also help on a variety of topics from state law to statistics.

• Look to your own ranks for wisdom. Many of your peers have been in the profession for years and possess a great deal of knowledge to share.

7. Consider meeting alternatives. Think about alternative strategies for hosting a meeting. While face-to-face meetings are irreplaceable, sometimes an issue surfaces between meetings you must address. Alternate communication routes help you cover the issue quickly and effectively. If time limitations prevent a face-to-face meeting, work with the tools at your disposal. For example, consider texting all parties involved to elicit their advice and feedback.

8. Get advice. Talk to people outside your group and in other professions to learn how they handle their meetings. Fresh suggestions and input can yield more interesting meetings.

9. Stay relevant. While meeting topics are endless and ever-changing, topics should be relevant to the issues most participants are facing at the moment. Click here for a free tool to help you plan your best meeting yet.