A little planning goes a long way. Use these tips to get the most out of your meeting.

Meetings are a natural occurrence in the workplace, within volunteer opportunities, and even within families. When you gather people together at the same time for a common purpose, be intentional about what you'd like to see happen at the meeting.

Virtual meetings have become more commonplace with the ease of Zoom or Skype. Video conferencing allows participants to meet safely and conveniently from any location via a common online platform. The video conference screen can resemble the opening credits to The Brady Bunch, with each person's video feed displaying as a single square on the screen.

We're all familiar with a round table meeting at the office or for a community organization. In-person meetings are occurring, and all participants need to adhere to the social distancing protocols in their area.

Regardless of where and how you're meeting, you want to make the most of your meeting. Use these tips as you plan your next successful meeting.

Identify a Purpose and an Agenda

Why are you wanting to meet? For what purpose will people gather around the table or in a video conference? Whether you're needing to discuss a big decision or plan an event, consider what you can realistically accomplish at a single meeting. List the items you intend to cover, with an estimated timeline, in an agenda to give to meeting attendees. Remember that some meeting attendees would appreciate receiving the agenda beforehand to think through and process the topic before being asked for input.

Of course, a family meeting can take a casual approach to what will be accomplished at the meeting. If you bring a printed agenda to your next family meeting, you're guaranteed some eye rolls. But it's helpful to identify what you want to accomplish when you bring everyone together.

Invite Meeting Participants

Who do you need at the meeting? We've all experienced a meeting where the conversation is going well and progress is being made ... all to realize a key decision-maker is not in attendance. For any project, include decision-makers, project managers, and key players in the process. When inviting attendees, be sure to include the day, time (start and end), location, and any preparation needed before the meeting.

If you're attempting to gather a large group of people, you can use your company's communication server to find a common time that works for everyone. When you're planning a meeting for volunteers or a group of family members, there's no central communication server. Check out Doodle.com for a free and easy way to poll participants on their availability.

Start and End on Time

Respect those in attendance by starting and ending on time. You have no way of knowing the schedule juggling act attendees have performed to attend your meeting. Your attendees won't want to waste time waiting on other attendees or feel the stress of being late to their next meeting or engagement.

Use the agenda you developed as you lead the meeting. Watch the clock periodically to help determine when you need to move onto the next topic. If you're prone to get side-tracked or enjoy rabbit-trail conversations, consider asking someone to be a timekeeper for the meeting.

Listen as You Lead

Each person at your meeting has a purpose for being there. Engage each person and their opinion during the discussion. If the meeting has quite a few attendees, consider breaking into groups for discussion and then reporting summary answers to the group. Listen to what attendees are saying as they share.

Use caution when you ask questions and ask plenty of open-ended questions. Give your opinion after you ask a question. No one likes to sit in a meeting where the leader shares what they've been thinking, in great detail, and then asking for input. Attendees feel pressured to simply agree. 

Follow Up With Action Steps

Continue the success of your meeting with action steps. Invite an attendee to take notes during the meeting, or make it clear that each person is responsible for owning his or her action steps. Discuss a timeframe for the next meeting and what needs to be accomplished in the meantime. 

What is helpful for you as you plan a meeting? What tips can we add to the list? Share in the comments.