Start and Finish Well

It seems simple, but many people underestimate the importance of starting and finishing meetings well. Have you been in meetings with ragged starts or where people were unsure if the meeting was over? Effective facilitation at these critical times can dramatically improve the tone, energy, participation and follow-through after a meeting.

To open well, here are a few processes I consistently use:

  • Start on time, or acknowledge why you have not started on time and commit to start soon.
  • Have the host, organizer or project sponsor open the session with a welcome and short remarks to provide context.
  • Have participants briefly introduce themselves, or if everyone knows each other, use a short icebreaker such as sharing one piece of good news (regarding their company, their department, the project, or their personal lives). The intent is for every participant to speak to the large group as early as possible in the meeting.
  • Review the 3 Ps: Purpose of the meeting, Payoff or desired outcomes expected at the end of the meeting, and Process or agenda to achieve the payoffs.
  • Review groundrules (expected behaviors) for the meeting.
  • Review the role and responsibilities of the facilitator (or chair).

Investing the first few minutes of a meeting in this way creates an inviting, participative and focused environment.

To close well, I consistently:

  • Summarize next steps, clarifying who will be doing what and by when.
  • Evaluate the meeting. I often use a Plus/Delta format. The “pluses” are what worked well and made the meeting effective. The “deltas” are the changes or improvements that would have made this meeting more effective, or could make future meetings more effective. The key is to continuously improve meetings based on participant feedback.
  • Last words by the host, organizer or meeting sponsor.

Ending meetings well ensures clarity, commitment to follow-through, and a sense of accomplishment.

IBM used to offer a tool to measure the return on investment for meetings. Their approach was to tally the salaries for time people spent in the meeting, and compare that cost to the benefits achieved. Starting and finishing well significantly ups the odds of a positive ROI.

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