15 English Idioms that Can Help You Make Your Meetings Effective

Robert Mckenzie, EPAM Senior Business Analyst, and Rachel O’Ryan, EPAM Language Trainer, talk about five key stages of an effective meeting, and share English idioms that could be helpful at each stage.

Senior Business Analyst Robert Mckenzie and Language Trainer Rachel O’Ryan


Millions of people attend meetings daily, wondering if their time could be better spent elsewhere. They often feel confused and don’t understand what is expected of them. The main reasons are poor organization when a particular meeting has no agenda or purpose, and miscommunication.

So, let’s discuss best practices for each stage of an effective meeting, and learn several related idioms.

Also, to improve your language skills, we invite you to familiarize yourself with our course "English for IT specialists."

Related article: Idiomatic English: The Power of Proper Names

What are idioms and why are they used?

According to Cambridge dictionary, an idiom is: "A group of words in a fixed order that has a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own."

That can make them difficult to make sense of at times, because our minds might madly start racing, trying to translate each word of an idiom into our own language to understand what is happening. So, the truth is, we need to learn them as fixed phrases.

Idioms are used everywhere and hearing them being used during meetings or business negotiations is no exception. They help create a positive atmosphere and make conversation more interesting to the listener and help you be more diplomatic which is probably why we hear them so often in natural everyday English.

What is the difference between effective and ineffective meetings?

What is an ineffective meeting?

As the saying goes, time is money. An ineffective meeting is one that does not work or wastes time.

Some characteristics of ineffective meetings are:

  • They lack preparation and direction.

  • They involve too many or irrelevant people.

  • They are dominated by one or few voices.

  • They end without clear outcomes or next steps.

As a result, many employees consider these meetings unproductive, do other work or daydream in meetings.

What is an effective meeting?

An effective meeting is one that achieves the desired outcome.

Some characteristics of effective meetings are:

  • They have a clear purpose and agenda.

  • They include the right people and encourage participation.

  • They foster open and constructive communication.

  • They result in actionable decisions and follow-up.

So, if you are a meeting organizer, follow these best practices:

  • Encourage the team to work together when faced with challenges.

  • Create and enhance that team spirit.

  • Encourage everyone to focus on a shared goal.

  • Talk about the desired outcomes of the meeting and project.

  • Talk about improvements and adjustments that need to be made.

  • Keep everyone focused on the most important items on the agenda.

Five key stages of effective meetings

Stage 1: Create the agenda


  • Create an agenda that states why we are having the meeting and the purpose.

  • Invite participates who can activity contribute to the meeting.

  • Outline any background information that can help participates understand the scope and expectations.

  • Inline the key points of interest that need to be discuss as the highest priority. 

  • Ensure the agenda is well structured, clearly stated, and short.

  • Highlight the expected outcomes of the meeting.

  • Attach any necessary pre-reading material, confluence links, files, presentations.

Idioms that can be used:

  • Map out the plan

When someone maps out the plan, they do something in detail as well as say how they will do it.

Example: Let's take some time to map out the plan for the agenda and allocate time for each topic.

  • Fine-tune the agenda

When someone fine-tunes the agenda, they make small changes to something to make it work as well as possible.

Example: Now, let's fine-tune the agenda to ensure it aligns with our objectives.

  • Dot the i’s and cross the t’s

When someone dot’s the i’s and crosses the t’s they pay a great deal of attention to the details of something, especially when you are trying to complete a task.

Example: Let’s dot the i’s and cross the t’s as we polish our meeting agenda.

Stage 2: Prepare deliverables


  • Prepare the deliverable(s) for discussion as per agenda.

  • Share the deliverables with participants.

  • Set out a bunch of questions for any unknowns.

  • Establish the stakeholders who may be able to answer the questions.

  • Ensure that the deliverables are well organized and clearly structured.

  • Share links to documents to help set the stage.

Idioms that can be used:

  • Put our best foot forward

When someone puts their best foot forward, they try as hard as they can to achieve something.

Example: As we prepare, let's put our best foot forward with these meetings.

  • Smooth out the edges

When someone smooths out the edges, they try to reduce the difficulties or imperfections in something (like a plan or agenda) or in a process.

Example: Let's smooth out any rough edges in our deliverables to ensure clarity.

  • Bring it all together

When someone brings it all together, they try to combine a number of people, things, or activities in one place, under one title, for one purpose.

Example: Our challenge is to bring it all together in a cohesive set of deliverables.

Stage 3: Set the stage


  • Prepare the key talking points for discussion for each topic area.

  • Outline the why, where, who, what, when and how to establish clarity.

  • Highlight the AS-IS and TO-BE scenarios.

  • Highlight the gap analysis.

  • Highlight the main pain points.

  • Highlight the opportunities.

  • Discuss the expectations from each stakeholder.

Idioms that can be used:

  • Illuminate the path

When someone illuminates the path, they try to shine light on the best way forward and give direction to the meeting.

Example: Our goal is to illuminate the path forward as we begin our meeting.

  • Set the scene

When someone sets the scene, they try to describe a situation where something is about to happen, this may include giving some background to a situation.

Example: First, let's set the scene — we have faced numerous challenges recently.

  • Open the floor for discussion

When someone opens the floor for discussion, they use the phrase to signal that others can ask questions or give opinions.

Example: Before we delve in, let's open the floor for any initial thoughts or concerns.

Stage 4: Keep the meeting on track


  • Stick to the agenda's core topics for discussion.

  • Clearly define the structure of the topic and the expected outcomes.

  • Ask concise questions related to the topic.

  • Keep track of time and avoid unrelated issues.

  • Try to resolve as many issues as you can within a specific time.

  • Take additional notes on any unresolved issues.

Idioms that can be used:

  • Keep our eyes on the prize

When someone keeps their eyes on the prize, they try to keep their attention on what they are trying to achieve, even when this is difficult.

Example: I know it's not an easy topic, but let's keep our eyes on the prize so we can agree and create a clear action plan.

  • Stick to the script

When someone sticks to the script, they try to follow the existing plan, outline, guidelines, directions, etc.

Example: Ok, so let's do our best to stick to the script and that way we will get through all the agenda points.

  • Go off on a tangent

When someone goes off on a tangent, they start saying or doing something that is not directly connected with what they were saying or doing before.

Example: We seem to be going off on a bit of a tangent, today's topic is the latest updates on progress, we talked about what went wrong in the last sprint last week.

Stage 5: Close the meeting


  • Recap what was discussed in a concise list.

  • Outline the action items with a responsible person assigned.

  • Set up the follow up meeting.

  • Define the next steps.

  • Write the meeting notes and attach this to the next meeting.

  • Thank everyone for their active participation.

Idioms that can be used:

  • To wrap things up

When someone wants to wrap things up, they summarize what was discussed and highlight any action items that need to be done before the next meeting.

Example: So, it's time to wrap things up, let's move onto our summary and action points for the next meeting.

  • In a nutshell

When someone uses the idiom in a nutshell, instead of explaining in detail about the process they just highlight the main point and end goal.

Example: In a nutshell the new app will help us plan much better.

  • Stay tuned

When someone says stay tuned, they ask the meeting participants to watch out for more information coming their way.

Example: Please stay tuned because we will be sending out the action points later this afternoon and we can all get started with them.

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