Even though today is the first day of school for a lot of moms and I would much rather blog about sending my daughter off for her last year of high school, I’m determined to follow my idea of writing on specific topics on specific days. With that in mind, let’s venture into today’s “Thursday Tasks” which will focus on developing your leadership skills as a woman.

If you’re like me, I spend a lot of time in meetings. Some meetings I’m asked to attend and some I’m asked to lead. More often than not, I come away with a sense of dissatisfaction and a feeling of wasted time. (just to clarify–I feel that way when I attend meetings, not lead meetings. You can insert a smile of saracasm.)

So, how can you plan meetings that don’t kill your leadership influence? Here are some practical tips I’ve learned through the years and I hope it will help you become a better meeting planner.

1. Take a hard look at past meetings and assess their effectiveness. Do people dread your meetings? Do people feel they can express their opinions and ideas? Are you talking “to” the attendees or “with” the attendees? Are people disengaged during your meetings i.e. playing on their phone or laptop? If the answer is “yes”, then you’re ready to make some changes.

2. Be prepared and purposeful. When I show up at a meeting and there’s no written agenda, I’m instantly disengaged. Why? Because the leader didn’t take the time to strategically think about the outcome of the meeting. I’ve attended several meetings this summer led by men who lead churches. I’ve been blown away by the lack of thought in their preparation. There was no agenda, no resources provided and no strategy. I can honestly say I’ve wasted hours hearing people chase rabbits and by the end of the meetings (which have been several hours), I’ve concluded that nothing was accomplished. If you’re planning a meeting, please have an agenda,  refreshments and let your attendees know that their time is valuable and appreciated.

3. Start on time and end on time. Really, people do have other things to do. If you set a pattern for starting late, you can be sure that people will catch on quickly and will never show up on time. But if you begin on time and they are late, they learn a quick lesson on the importance of timeliness. Same with ending the meeting. If people have more things to discuss, dismiss those who need to go and spend one-on-one time with those who have additional questions or things they need to say.

4. Allow for interaction, but keep the meeting focused. If you sense that people are “chasing rabbits”, gently re-direct the conversation to the agenda and keep them on task. Don’t ignore conflict. Address it and discuss it. If the conflict is personal, ask the individual to meet with you personally following the meeting.

5. Mix up the meetings. Are your meetings typically the same with just different agenda items? Is the environment always the same? Try something new next time. Instead of starting your meeting with prayer, find a creative way to pray during a different time. Insert a video to mix things up. Have the meeting in a different location or at least set the chairs in a different way. In a day where people are easily distracted, it’s not a bad idea to mix things up every 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Allow teamwork and collaboration to occur. Depending on the size of your meeting, divide the group into small teams and give them specific questions to address. Ask them to share their thoughts and findings with the entire group and allow for interaction. If you’re the only one talking in meetings, it’s not a meeting. It’s a lecture.

7. Allow time for fun and food. Sometimes we are just way too serious in our meetings. I’ve had women play games with balloons and play dough. I always have chocolate on the tables (a must for any women’s meeting) and I always provide some sort of meal if  the meeting lasts more than two hours.

8. Be honest and authentic with your attendees. My event teams and my leadership team will tell you that I’m brutally honest with them about the way I feel things are going. I often wonder if I share too much. But I’ve learned they often sympathize with my struggles and are willing to offer practical solutions to the problems we might be facing.

9. Prayer time. This is going to sound so unspiritual, but I must address this issue. No doubt, I believe prayer is foundational and can set the tone for your meeting. But unless prayer is the entire focus of your meeting, do not spend an enormous chunk of time in prayer. I have been in meetings where the first hour was spent praying. This would have been fine if I had known this was going to take half of the meeting time from the beginning or if it was directed with a specific plan or purpose. But if you’re spending 30 minutes sharing prayer requests and 30 minutes praying, you probably won’t spend enough time tackling the agenda. On the other hand, if you are going to allow for an extended time of prayer, create the time as an experience. Direct the prayer focus. Provide scriptures to pray. Add a prayer walk or visuals. Again, prayer is vital, but it can kill a meeting if done without purpose.

10. Finally, be the leader when you lead a meeting. Don’t let someone else lead for you. Monitor the pace of your meeting, the flow of the agenda and be mindful of how your attendees are engaged. Be mindful of how the Holy Spirit is moving and be sensitive in the way you respond.