Nine Tips for Leading Effective Meetings

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Research shows managers and technical professionals spend nearly one-quarter of their work lives in meetings. How can nurses turn these potential time drains into dynamic and productive encounters? Nurse leaders from the Hudson Valley region have some suggestions for facilitating effective meetings.

Schedule when most people can participate.

Cindy Chapman, nurse manager at Lawrence Hospital Center in Bronxville, N.Y., moved her bimonthly staff meetings from the middle of the day to change of shift at 7:15 a.m. “You have to get them while they’re here,” she says. “Serving food also increases attendance.”

Cindy Chapman, RN

Prepare the agenda.

Draft an agenda that is reasonable in length, list each topic with the person responsible for leading it, and give the time allotted for each topic. Distribute this draft agenda to participants for feedback before finalizing, recommends Harriet R. Feldman, dean and professor, Lienhard School of Nursing at Pace University, and author of Nursing Leadership: A Concise Encyclopedia (Springer 2008). “Explain why a topic is on the agenda. Is it for discussion, decision-making, fact-finding, or just sharing?” Feldman asks. She recommends leaving room for unanticipated additions. “You don’t want the agenda so jam-packed that there is not a minute to breathe.”

Start and end on time.

The meeting leader must be completely prepared and ready to go at the publicized start time. Feldman recommends not starting over or repeating sections if participants arrive late, because that crunches the time for the rest of the meeting. “Nurses are smart people. They can pick up where you are on the agenda, and if they need clarification, they can get it after the meeting,” she says.

Set the tone.

The chairperson’s opening remarks set the tone for the meeting. Prepare a series of statements that clarify the ground rules for the group, such as confidentiality or expectations of attendance. “The chairperson’s orientation speech is the single most important act of the business meeting.

This three- to five-minute speech at the onset of the meeting can work small miracles,” write Roger K. Mosvick and Robert B. Nelson, in We’ve Got to Start Meeting Like This! A Guide to Successful Meeting Management (Park Avenue Productions, 1996). The opening remarks should include the purpose and procedures for the meeting and a comprehensive statement of the hard facts and evidence that serve as the basis for discussion. Effective introductory comments will eliminate unnecessary and extraneous discussion and create consensus on how the group will operate.

Harriet Feldman, RN

Communicate powerfully.

Meeting leaders should demonstrate confidence by using direct, declarative language, such as “This is what we are doing” versus “Don’t you think that this should be done?” Mosvick and Nelson say. They advise leaders to avoid emotional-state verbs, such as “I think,” “I believe,” “I assume,” “I guess,” or “I hope,” which are tentative statements. Rather, use “I know” or “It is.”

Meeting leaders also should watch their nonverbal communication, such as a fixed smile or constant agreement nodding, which can project the image of seeking and needing approval, according to the authors.

Focus discussion.

The meeting leader must ensure the meeting discussion is on topic and meaningful, Feldman says. She encourages participants to listen to each other and not talk just for the sake of talking. She redirects them back to the topic when they stray. Also, to save time, if a motion has been approved, she asks for opposition comments only. “There’s no need to beat a topic to death.”

Theresa MacLeod is a former supervisor at White Plains Hospital Center and has a reputation for running positive, energized, goal-oriented unit council meetings in Labor and Delivery. She believes that nurses have a unique ability to focus on what’s important in meetings. “In critical care nursing, you develop an intuitive thought process about what you need to pay attention to and what can wait,” she says. “That thought process is critical for running productive meetings. It allows you to set priorities.”

MacLeod also promotes flexibility in the conversation flow. “Someone’s idea that doesn’t seem to be on course may generate ideas that haven’t been considered. Go into your meeting with an open mind and without preconceived answers.”

Rose Ann O’Hare, RN

Redirect negativity.

Feldman employs diversion strategies for people “who feel they need to be the conscience of the world,” she says, and who repeatedly bring up negative viewpoints. One tactic is redirecting to a positive person with, “I hear what you’re saying. Let’s hear from Joe.”

Another strategy is to plan in advance with other leaders to prevent a negative person from taking over the meeting. She counsels difficult participants privately on how they can be better and more respected contributors. “You don’t want to embarrass them further by confronting them in front of the group,” she says.

Train meeting leaders.

Many health systems provide management training for nurses that includes meeting skills. At Pace, the nursing school invited a professor from the business school to train faculty to lead effective meetings.

At Lawrence Hospital Center, Rose Ann O’Hare, vice president of Patient Care Services, delegates leadership of nursing advisory council meetings to staff nurses, who receive support from senior managers. “They learn by emulating experienced leaders,” she says.

MacLeod of White Plains recommends starting small for newer nurses. “Empower newer nurses to run short sections of a meeting or one in which the topic is clear. For all of us, it’s better to accomplish small things well than cover a lot of ground but accomplish little,” she says.

Follow through.

Assign a staff member to take notes and distribute minutes, which should include action items to complete before the next meeting. “You want people to walk out of the meeting thinking that it was a good meeting, with something meaningful accomplished, and the group is ready to go on to the next steps,” Feldman says.

Leslie Flowers is a freelance writer.

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