How to run a meeting (even a small one)

Nashville Business Journal

July 31, 2015


If you are in a leadership role the chances are that you will be called on from time to time to oversee and run big sales and business meetings of one kind or another. At this point you have an opportunity to shine or fall on your face. The first option is generally preferred.  Here are some of my thoughts about meeting organization that might help you shine.

Plan. The first step is to plan your meeting carefully. Draft the agenda, share it with key constituents and ask for comments.  Finalize your agenda including time allocations for each topic and speaker. Share the agenda again so that when the time comes there are no surprises.

Take charge. When the meeting is in process it is up to you as the leader to keep things running on time which may include politely pushing the group to move on to the next topic. You will be remembered for your organization, content of the subjects and for your punctuality. The group will love you if your meeting ends a little early and feel the opposite if you let things drag on way past your scheduled quitting time.

Practice. Big meetings involving multiple speakers usually need some practice which can make all the difference in the world. If you have acknowledged experienced speakers make sure the time limit is understood in advance. If you are working with less experienced folks practice and sometimes lots of it can really help.  The opening and closing usually comments need the most rehearsal. If you or your speakers are using humor make sure the jokes are really funny – nothing can erode speaker confidence faster than a joke gone badly.   

Nervous speaker? Reassure your speaker that no one in the audience can tell that she is nervous. Reassure her that she is the authority on the subject – that way she was chosen. Plus you have herd her rehearse several time and she is a “star.”

Support materials. Be sure videos, PowerPoints, etc. are fully functional and tested several times prior to the meeting. Keep visual aids simple and understandable. PowerPoints should be kept to a limited number of pages and no more than a half dozen bullet points on a page. If handouts are part of the meeting they should be distributed at the end. Remember that your speaker is the “star attraction’ not the visuals and the handouts.  

Q & A portion.  If you plan on a question and answer session let the audience know ahead of time so they prepare during the talk. Asking “what questions do you have” generally garners quicker participation than “do you have questions.” Always repeat the question for the audience.

Preparation. If it is a big meeting get there early. Check all the technical support – microphones, video, etc. Make sure there is water for the speaker. Get comfortable with the surroundings.

Leaders establish their credentials by running effective meetings. Next time you get the chance show them how well you can do!


Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company and
Founder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute
He can be reached at

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