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Formal Meeting: What They Are and How to Conduct Them

What makes a formal meeting different from other gatherings your team may have? This primer to formal meetings will show you.

By Fellow.app  •   December 22, 2021  •   8 min read

From the name alone, a formal meeting may seem deceptively simple. It’s easy to assume that you can run one with the same preparations you would at any other company gatherings. However, while you could lead a formal meeting informally, you should have a solid grasp of the typical preparations before attempting to subvert them. 

Why, you ask? Well, it’s simple. An informal meeting that should be formal could end up causing confusion and miscommunication rather than a smooth transfer of information. That’s why you should know the ins and outs of how to run a formal meeting. Below, you’ll learn about everything that goes into running a successful formal meeting so that yours can go off without a hitch.

What is a formal meeting?

Generally, a formal meeting is precisely what it sounds like. It’s an assembly of two or more people gathered to discuss (and hopefully achieve!) a common goal. These meetings are often highly structured events with rules of order, pre-planned topics, and clear objectives. The structure might give several people highly specific roles to help keep things organized. 

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What is the purpose of a formal meeting?

Formal meetings are a vehicle for discussion among teams and company leadership. Everyone present can share relevant information quickly, efficiently, and hopefully in an engaging way, while opening the floor to a constructive dialogue. Meetings conducted formally can create a collaborative environment where ideas can be shared, workshopped, and accepted within a predetermined  timeframe. 

In short: Formal meetings are great for keeping everyone, especially management, up to date on just about anything. Changes happening within the organization, measures for accountability and transparency, project planning – it’s all on the table at a formal meeting.

Formal meeting vs. informal meetings

While formal and informal meetings share the goal of fostering discussion and sharing information, they’re not quite the same. (This article wouldn’t exist if they were!) Generally, formal meetings are rigidly structured to the point of predictability, while informal meetings have looser requirements and more structural flexibility. 

The exact setup for these two types of meetings can differ slightly among companies, but the deviations between the two are usually:

  • Formal meetings require an agenda. Informal meetings are more free-flowing. In a formal meeting, the talking points are decided on long before anyone enters the room. That means they’re unlikely to deviate from what’s been planned. Informal meetings allow for the more casual sharing of ideas and potentially more creative problem-solving.
  • Formal meetings require meeting minutes. Informal meetings have fewer documentation requirements. Formal meeting minutes are exact transcriptions of a meeting’s proceedings. They’re often made available for people to reference. Informal meetings don’t require this meticulous documentation, though you should have a notetaker on hand regardless. 
  • Formal meetings tend to have more thorough decision-making procedures. Informal meetings usually don’t require an official vote on actions. While both meetings are home to important discussions, formal meetings typically result in major company-wide action. Informal meetings rarely require this structured voting process, though the decisions reached can be just as meaningful. 

Different types of formal meetings

All formal meetings are rigidly structured, but like snowflakes, no two formal meetings are quite alike.  Several types of formal meetings exist to help your team achieve all kinds of things. Most elements of a typical formal meeting remain – meeting minutes, pre-planned talking points, and individuals with designated roles. The differences beyond these standards are listed below.

1 Annual all-hands meeting 

Annual all-hands meetings function like town halls or forums where everyone within an organization simultaneously receives the same information. Thanks to video conferencing technologies, companies of all sizes – even those with team members all over the world – can hold all-hands meetings. The frequency of these meetings may vary among businesses, but no matter what, they’re an occasion for company overviews, major updates, and more.

2 Review meetings 

Review meetings are held periodically to assess performance on a recent project or during a recent period. You and your team will look at what you’ve done right and wrong and discuss how you can improve current strategies. They’re usually short, but they can be intense. After all, looking over your successes and failures can quickly start to feel like a lot. But it’s worth the intensity now for greater success down the line.

3 Brainstorming or innovation meetings

Relying on only one person to come up with brilliant ideas can set your company up for disappointment. Collaboration more often leads to the innovations that propel a business to new heights, and the open discussions of brainstorming meetings can foster this collaboration. They’re among the best settings for finding fresh ideas, whether new designs for old products or an entirely new way to run your organization. 

4 Planning meetings

Most, if not all, companies have clear objectives. During planning meetings, you’ll guide your team through the best way to reach these goals with the resources at hand. Be sure to ask your employees for feedback as to what seems realistic – their hands-on experience can illuminate your blind spots. As you plan your goals, you could create a product roadmap that can help guide employees. 

5 Kick-off meetings

Progress lost due to miscommunication or false expectations can bring company projects to a screeching (and costly) halt. Kick-off meetings help prevent these crossed wires. During these meetings, you can get every employee assigned on the same page. You’ll cover the project’s overall goal, the timeline to reach said goal, the deliverables expected, and the resources at the employee’s disposal.

6 Retrospective or post-mortem meetings

Just because your team has finished a project doesn’t mean they can’t still learn from it. A post-mortem meeting can guide this learning. During this meeting, you’ll discuss what you and your team think did and didn’t go right with your recent work. Your meeting can help employees grow – and deliver even better results on the next project.

7 Decision-making or problem-solving meetings

Running a company is rarely the work of one person. The collective intelligence of upper management – not to mention your team – allows the company as a whole to make better decisions. Problem-solving meetings facilitate this process. Everyone present can more easily gather information, deliberate over it, and decide the best course of action together.

What do you need for a formal meeting?

Formal meetings are highly structured events with formats that don’t vary too heavily even as their type changes. Understanding these meetings’ essential components can make setting up every type of formal meeting way easier. The most crucial elements to a proper formal meeting are:

  • An agenda. Your meeting agenda is basically a roadmap for your conversation. It lists the key topics that the meeting will cover and the order in which they’ll be discussed.
  • A chairperson. In formal meetings, a chairperson guides the conversation and helps the group stay on topic. Chairpeople can get things back on track when a discussion veers off-course or starts to become an argument.
  • Meeting minutes. A formal meeting requires the creation of meeting minutes. Sure, it’s a daunting task to record every little thing said and every action taken, but meeting minutes tools can help. Think of them as making a harsh requirement an easy box to check.

Formal meeting agenda template

If you’re having some trouble deciding what should be included as you plan your meeting, the below formal meeting template should help you get started. 

Tips on how to run a formal meeting

With a formal meeting template in hand and a good knowledge of what formal meetings comprise, you’re almost ready to get started. Before that, below are a few extra tips to help make your formal meeting a smashing success.

1 Set clear objectives 

Your meeting needs a clear and concise goal to drive the best possible discussions. All meeting objectives are pre-planned, and everyone in attendance should know them beforehand. This advance notice gives attendees time to research the stated topics and come to the meeting with more valuable input. Making the objective too vague or not coming up with one at all makes for a potentially unfocused and unproductive meeting.

2 Assemble the right attendees 

Time is always precious, and proper meeting scheduling is vital to making the most of the workday. Before sending out invitations, make sure everyone you want in attendance can be present for the entire event. Similarly, if only one part of the meeting requires a certain participant’s input, you can have them sit in on only that part. Their presence the whole time, even when not relevant, could encourage them to skip the next meeting to get more work done.

3 Create a solid agenda

An agenda is simply a list of talking points that will assist in achieving the meeting’s objectives. A well-structured schedule helps the conference flow from one point to the next. Just make sure to send it to everyone attending beforehand so you’re all on the same page.

4 Maintain control

From the beginning of a meeting to the end, you should remain in control of the conversation to draw out the most productive discussion. Your meeting should start with a call to order and a statement of your objectives. Then, as your meeting progresses, make sure the group follows the critical points on your agenda. For best results, always keep the meeting from getting too far off-topic (even if the topic seems fun).

5 Follow up

After your meeting concludes, send out your meeting minutes and make sure all attendees know their meeting action items. Then, check in on these items every few days. And just as importantly, remember to thank everyone for attending your meeting. You know your time is precious – now, show everyone that you value theirs. They’ll appreciate it – and, as a result, potentially do better work.

Get the most out of your formal meetings

Knowing the right way to run your formal meetings helps drive productive conversation and clearly share information. A collaborative environment that’s well-crafted and controlled benefits any type of gathering, from stakeholder meetings to team planning discussions. Whether you hold these meetings in person or remotely, Fellow can help you maintain their structure. You’ll create rock-solid agendas, take notes in real-time, follow up on action items, and create an environment where great ideas prosper. 

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