The recipe for running your best meeting ever

Jackie Colburn
6 min readJun 5, 2024


Most of us have attended our fair share of bad meetings — they’re memorable for all the wrong reasons. But if you’re the person in charge of running meetings, workshops, or collaborative sessions, how can you make sure that your own gathering doesn’t end up on the wrong side of meeting history? If we want to get the most from our teams, the way we meet needs to be considered carefully and that starts before you even send the meeting invite.

This article covers the important elements you need to think about as you plan your session and includes some helpful tools that will prepare you to lead your best meeting ever.

Plan Your Meeting Like You’d Plan A Party

Great meetings feel productive, fluid, and like a good use of everyone’s time. People actually want to be there! In order to create those circumstances, you’ll need to get organized ahead of time and consider details both big and small. This can truly make or break the experience.

Think about planning a meeting the same way you would a party. You’ve got a ton of decisions to make about the guest list, seating arrangements, entertainment, timing, and beyond. When you think through the details first, you can create a much more purposeful and intentional experience versus trying to make all the decisions while the party is already in progress. And, let’s be honest, nobody wants to throw a bad party.

How to Plan for Your Meeting or Workshop

Our focus today is on the upfront elements you need to consider as you plan for your meeting. These are the pieces that should be addressed beforehand so that you and your team are primed for a successful gathering. They go well beyond a discussion guide or high-level timeline. Some details may feel small or insignificant, but after over a decade facilitating workshops for teams, I promise you that even the small stuff is important if you want to run a great meeting.

1. Clarify Your Purpose and Outcomes

Every good meeting starts with a clear sense of purpose. Spend some time outlining who, what, when, where, and why you’re gathering. This will give you clarity around the problem the team is trying to solve, the outcomes you want to leave with, the participants you need to get there, and the logistics for bringing it all together.

I put all of this information together into a worksheet format to make it easy to plan ahead — you’re welcome to use my template for your own planning purposes! Mapping out this info helps make the overall experience so much clearer and more fruitful.

If you want a bit more guidance on how to use this worksheet, check out this article for a step-by-step breakdown that will help you fill in the blanks.

2. Build the Agenda

As a facilitator, I’m pretty particular about the arc of a meeting or workshop and firmly believe in the power of a great agenda to guide participants toward better outcomes.

Sure, a list of topics is a good starting point, but it isn’t the whole story. Nor is it going to help you tap into all the benefits of a well thought-out agenda, like better organization and time management, more informed and focused conversation, and improved accountability.

Read this article to learn about the 5 components of a great meeting agenda as you plan for your own session. It covers things like how to start the gathering with intention, how to make discussion topics actionable, assigning a meeting champion, and more.

3. Don’t Skip the Small Stuff

You know that saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”? Well, I kind of want you to sweat the small stuff when you plan for your meeting. Not in a way that feels anxious or scary, but in a way that helps you consider all the little details that have the potential to throw things off if you don’t get ahead of them. So, let’s revise the phrase to, “Don’t skip the small stuff!”

Here’s what I mean:

  • Group curation: Will you have your participants break into small groups during your session? If so, consider the makeup of each small group ahead of time to make sure the perspectives are optimized for diversity and positive dynamics. That means you’ll want to consider the roles, titles, and personalities of the participants in order to assemble each group. For example, you might not pair the highest titles with more junior titles because the power dynamic may negatively affect the group’s collaboration. Or, you may decide not to pair someone who is known for monopolizing the conversation with quieter types in an effort to make sure all voices and perspectives are heard. Doing this is super helpful in unlocking your team’s best work.
  • Time management: Sure, you’ve got an outline for the gathering, but is it informed by the actual amount of time you’ll need for specific exercises? Let’s use the breakout groups as an example again. How much time do groups need to collaborate? How much time do they need to share ideas with the larger group aftward? Thinking through this is critical to getting overall timing right. An equation I like to use to calculate these specifics is: the number of participants x the number of minutes each person gets to share = total time needed for share-out. You can tweak this if only one member from each group will share (vs each person), and so on. The point is to get really granular about timing so you don’t have to sacrifice other parts of your agenda due to running over.
  • Room setup: Will you need space for participants to break into small groups? Do you need access to whiteboards and walls to post sticky-notes around the room? Think about the size of your group and the size space that will be conducive to getting work done. If you pick a space that’s too small, you might sacrifice the real estate necessary for collaboration. If you choose a room that’s too large, the energy might get lost. If you’re meeting virtually, have you thought about the virtual tools you plan to use (like Miro or Mural), and how you’ll facilitate break-out groups remotely? Have a plan for all these logistical details so you aren’t caught off guard when you actually meet with the team.
  • Risk areas: Think ahead to parts of the agenda that need more room for conversation in order to handle differences of opinion, or items that could go off the rails like hot-button issues or divisive topics. Build padding around these areas so you have room to let the group work through things. If you end up not needing it, great! But it’s usually better to have extra time than not enough.

4. Gather the Supplies You Need to Support the Entire Program

Sometimes the most obvious details get missed when you’re leading a group, like having enough pens or sticky notes on hand, or bundling materials in advance.

Set aside some prep time to think through all the items your participants will need to effectively meet. That means printing enough worksheets ahead of time, then collating and stapling them together so it’s easy to hand them out in the moment. Or bundling items in clear zipper bags so you can easily grab the pen bag, or the sticky-note bag when the moment arises. Do you need to have loose leaf paper on hand? What about tech items like different converters, chargers, or other tools that keep screens running and presentations going?

When you consider these materials in advance and have them prepared while running your session, it keeps the focus on the flow of ideas and activities rather than disrupting the team because you need five minutes to find materials.

Feel free to check out my facilitation toolkit for the resources, tools, and materials that I use to make sure my bases are covered.

Better Meetings Lead to Better Work

Better organization and greater clarity yields better work, plain and simple. When meeting participants are informed, aligned, and able to access a flow state, it gives way to their best ideas and greatest potential.

As meeting leaders, it’s up to us to cultivate the conditions for that potential to arise. And a few mindful adjustments to the way we plan for meetings can save everyone from wasted time and headspace.

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Jackie Colburn

Weekly resources for facilitators and leaders. Learn tips and methods to run better workshops, accelerate teams and uncover new ideas.