Learning to Run Meetings

Whether you are a college student, medical student, resident, faculty member or physician in practice, you can’t get around the need for meetings. Having watched some masters (and some “masters to be”) I thought it would be worth a little research on what makes a meeting work well. Here’s 12 ideas to help learn the skill of running a great meeting.


Photo credit

1. Start on time, stay on schedule and end on time. “Set the ground rules – meeting does not equal chillaxin in a room with a big table” from the MIT meeting Primer


Photo credit

2. Don’t use PowerPoint.


Photo credit

3. Make meetings as short as possible. Just because Outlook defaults to an hour doesn’t mean a meeting has to be an hour. I’m a fan of 30 minute meetings (max).


Photo credit

4. Never have a meeting without a clear purpose. If it’s just “getting together” to talk, it’s not a meeting. (Face to face time is important socially, but don’t confuse the two). That being said, a little social interaction at the beginning of the meeting is important to set a collegial tone.

5. Invite the appropriate people. Nothing is worse than sitting through a meeting about a topic that doesn’t apply to you. Limit the number, too – more than 8-10 people limits the ability of the group to interact effectively.


photo credit

6. Make an agenda and send it out before the meeting. If you are using Outlook to schedule your meetings, you can include the agenda (or add it later) with the invitation. The best agendas use the DRI approach adopted by Apple. Every item on the agenda should a) have a time limit for the item b) lead to an action item, and c) should list the “Directly Responsible Individual” for that item.  If it’s a smaller meeting, a formal agenda may not be necessary, but setting goals (and letting everyone know in advance) is still crucial.

7. Share documents with the team. Create folders on a shared drive, SharePoint or use Google (or other) apps. Otherwise, make sure these are shared by email.


Photo credit

8. Include “brainstorming” as an action item at the end of every meeting. When people bring up items that aren’t related to the task being discussed, stop them, write it down and bring their idea up during the brainstorming session.  Reinforce that there is no judgement in brainstorming – this is where the great ideas come from!

9. If you are running the meeting, control the conversation without stifling the creativity of the group. If one person seems to be dominating the conversation, gently (but firmly) steer the conversation to the other people. Go around the table to ask for opinions. If it’s a controversial issue, ask people to write their decision/opinion on a piece of paper and “pass the hat”. You can then read what are essentially “anonymous” responses to the group.

10. No texting, emails or other technology during the meeting. If it’s an hour long meeting, think about a 5-10 minute “bio break” to let people check their phones mid way.


Photo credit

11. Send an email within 24 hours summarizing the action items, deadlines and DRIs. Alterantively, you can send the  the minutes instead (but do it within a few days, not just before the next meeting so people know their responsibilities)

12. Kindness matters. These are your friends and colleagues who are all trying to do a good job and help.



Photo credit

Seven Steps to Running the Most Effective Meeting Possible

How To Run Your Meetings Like Apple and Google

University of Wisconsin-Madison guide to running good meetings

MIT Meeting Primer

Attending Medical Conferences

When you first start going to professional meetings, it’s easy to feel a little awkward.  If you are a student or resident, you will hopefully be with a faculty who will be able to act as a guide for you.  But, if the attending doesn’t make it (or isn’t really helpful) you may find yourself on your own… so I thought some guidance might help.

Go to the meeting. 

This might seem a little obvious, but if your department or school is paying for you to attend a meeting, you should attend the meeting.  If it’s your own money… you should still attend the meeting. This is part of being a professional. Your peers have put a lot of work into their presentations.  Put yourself in their shoes – and stay to hear their talks. Stay engaged during the sessions.  Don’t be the person in the back row surfing the web on a smart phone during the entire conference. Listen actively and ask questions.  If you ask good questions, people will notice and it will reflect well on you.  However, be gracious.  Always thank the speaker for what they said, and don’t be antagonistic when you ask your question.  That will be noticed, too, and not in a positive way.

Look like a professional.

No matter where you are in your training or practice, you will be making a first impression on people who may play a role in one or more of your future position(s). Start off with a suit and tie (or the equivalent for women) the first day.  If you are a woman, make sure you dress as if you are going to an interview – not a party.  If everyone else shows up in jeans the first day, move to more casual wear… starting the second day.  Don’t dress down too much – even if everyone else is doing it.  It’s never wrong to look professional at a professional meeting.

Take advantage of the social events.

Even though it is tempting to sneak off with a couple of our friends and skip the evening reception, don’t do it.  The social events are where you meet the important people in the field.  If you have time, do a little homework about who is attending the meeting and where they are from – just to be able to start a conversation.  Most of the “celebrities” in the field are delighted to talk to people in training, so don’t be intimidated.  You’ll also meet peers at your level at these meetings who will become lifelong colleagues and friends. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know!  If you are invited to dinner or if there is a formal banquet associated with the meeting, you’ll feel awkward if you don’t know the basic rules (like what to do if there is more than two forks).   If you aren’t familiar with formal dinner etiquette, here’s a great site to learn what to do:  Dining Etiquette Guide.

Be fiscally responsible.

Just because someone else is paying shouldn’t mean you pick the most expensive restaurant and order the most expensive items. If you come in under budget people will notice. If you turn in receipts over budget, they will really notice. Save all your receipts, and turn them within a few days of returning.  It’s always a nice touch to thank the people who paid for you to attend the meeting, either in person or with a note.

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man  –  Francis Bacon

Attending Professional Meetings for Beginners (a previous post on Wellness Rounds)

Handy hints for attending national meetings from KevinMD.com

Attending Professional Meetings for Beginners

I’m attending the American Surgical Association meeting, which got me thinking about some of the first meetings I ever attended.  Professional meetings are part of the job – and are a wonderful “perk” for physicians.  It’s a time when you can have dinner with an old friend and catch up, hear colleagues present their best work, learn about new aspects of your field.. BUT –  It’s a little intimidating for students and residents, so I thought I’d pass on some thoughts that might help if you haven’t done this before.

Why physicians attend professional meetings

1.  To learn new information.  The advantage of a meeting (over just reading)  is to be able to ask questions and talk to the people who did the work.  Asking questions at a meeting is an artform – make sure you watch a few people first.  There is always at least one person who feels like they need to make a comment or ask a question on just about every topic…. don’t be that person.  When you get up all the time, it’s really more about showing off, not learning.  On the other hand – don’t hesitate to ask questions if you really want to know the answer!  You can also go up to the presenter after the session and ask the question in person.

2. To network.  This is particularly important early in your career.  Be social and introduce yourself!   If you are attending the meeting on your own, this will be harder.  If  (as is usually the case) you are there with senior residents or faculty, they should go out of their way to introduce you to people.   If they don’t volunteer to introduce you, ask them!

3. To socialize.  With time, this becomes one of the most important parts of meetings.  This is where friendships and connections are made that go beyond networking.   The depth of these friendships is a treasure…. so work on them early and nuture them.

Tricks and “rules” for attending meetings

1.  Assume that you will be sitting next to your future boss on the plane.  (i.e. don’t wear jeans and a t-shirt)

2.  Assume that your luggage will be lost.  (see Rule #1)

3.  Find out if there is a dressy event.  It’s not very common, but there are still organizations that have a black tie dinner.  It’s not a good idea to find this out at the meeting!

3.  If you are a new member, make sure you meet the officers and volunteer to serve on committees. Get involved.  Many professional organizations have a need for students and residents on committees.  Even if they don’t – I’ve never seen an organization that wasn’t delighted to have you attend the meeting.

4.  After you make your reservations for the flight and the hotel, look up interesting restaurants within a taxi ride of the meeting.  Here’s what happens at meetings.  It’s 5 o.clock and the meeting ends.  Everyone ends up in the bar or mingling outside the room and the conversation starts… “Do you have any plans for dinner?” … “Do you want to try to eat together?”  and…. because you are probably in a fairly large city… there is no way to get a last minute reservation at any decent place.  SO – everyone ends up eating in the Marriott.  Here’s Plan B:  As soon as you know you are going to a meeting (and have done the research), make a reservation for 8 at a good restaurant for every night of the meeting.  When the conversation starts at 5pm you can say “I have reservations at TheBestRestaurantNearHere… would you like to join me?”  You look like a superstar… and everyone has a great dinner!

5.  Enjoy yourself.  This is one of the perks.  You are in the company of friends who are doing the same work you are… and appreciate the work you are doing.