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10 Ways to Get Control of Your Meetings

Meetings, when done properly, should be to the point, smooth, and only as long as they have to be. Having a good and efficient meeting takes planning and firm execution. While there are not too many ways to have a great meeting, there are plenty of ways to have a bad one. Some potential pitfalls are inflated agendas, having a meeting when an email would suffice, and inviting the wrong people. If you have a necessary, well-planned meeting with the right people and it’s going well, what do you do when it gets derailed? How can you prevent that from happening?

1. Preventing a meeting from being sidetracked actually begins well before start time. By using an agenda, you provide the structure upon which the meeting is built. The more detailed and planned the agenda, the smoother the meeting. Another way to use the agenda is while passing it out. When you communicate with each participant about the meeting, make sure to tell them that it will begin and end exactly as scheduled. Once you have set the stage, however, you have to follow the agenda exactly. If you don’t respect the schedule, no one else will.

2. At the beginning of the meeting, clearly state that your time – and everyone else’s – is valuable and that you only have enough time for the meeting as scheduled. If the meeting runs over, you will have to leave. This subtly leads your fellow participants to stick to the schedule.

3. Often when beginning meetings, we pass out materials that will help to guide our participants and reemphasize certain points. The tendency is to simply hand over everything so as not to disrupt the flow later. However, people’s instincts in these situations dictate that they rifle through the handouts, pulling their attention away from your opening remarks. The best course is to hand out materials as needed.

4. A major potential derailment of your meeting comes from your speakers. The can ramble on and on, they can get bogged down in questions, or they could simply go off topic for who knows how long. There are several ways you can combat errant speakers. First, make sure they know how long they have to speak and have them submit their lecture or notes ahead of time. If you see any potential split-away points, bring them to their attention so they can avoid going off-topic in the meeting. If they do split anyway, a gentle reminder of their previous or next point can set them aright.

5. If your speaker knows their specific time to speak, they are less prone to go over. However, unless you provide a clock or timer of some kind, their best intentions will be for naught. If a timer isn’t feasible, work out a system of cues ahead of time. For example, you could put a blue pen in front of you for the “five minutes left” signal and a red pen for “one minute left.”

6. You can help your speaker with Q&A by stepping in as their personal moderator. If you are the one to pick who is to ask a question, then you can easily step in after questions have gone on too long. Simply say “that’s enough questions for now,” instead of picking the next person. Also, you can suggest that the speakers will be able to personally answer questions after the meeting.

7. Another big detractor from an efficient meeting is excellent, important discussion topics… that are not on the agenda. These topics can derail a meeting faster than anything else. The difficult part is that usually these discussions need to happen, but you don’t have to let them ruin your meeting. First, acknowledge that the topic is a good one. Then you can derail the derailment in several ways. You could tell the major players in the discussion to table it for now and meet amongst themselves after your meeting. You could announce that your meeting will go on, but there will be another meeting after this one to discuss the new topic.

8. If the off-topic point is a good one, but not worthy enough for the solutions above, create a “bin list.” This list holds all points that need to be discussed, but not right then. You can schedule meetings for each one, or all at once. You can also take the two most invested people in the discussion and assign them to work out the details and take care of it personally. The point is that you don’t have it interfering with your meeting.

9. There are times that a meeting gets off track, but not for a good reason like an important off-topic point. Often, the problem is simply rude participants that slow down a meeting. Taking care of these situations falls almost completely on you, but it doesn’t have to be too big a chore. Start at the beginning of the meeting with confidence. Keep your posture straight throughout the meeting. Monitor your body language and make sure your voice is solid and carrying. Make them want to listen to you. Watch your participants’ body language as well. If you see slumping or boredom, jump in with a request for their opinion to get them mentally back into the meeting. If the distracted are wide spread, call for a quick five minute break. Your participants will return refreshed and rejuvenated. If you have people talking amongst themselves instead of listening, simply smile politely and wait until they are done or have noticed that the entire meeting is waiting on them. They will quickly come to task.

10. A good strategy for keeping your meetings on track is to schedule them to end right before lunch or quitting time. However, these particular end times can cause hazardous derailments, because your participants are beginning to think about what they will be doing after the meeting. This is the point in the agenda where you should place all of the controversial topics. Not only will it liven up the meeting and banish daydreaming, it will prevent the subjects from being discussed too long as lunch is just over the horizon.

If you craft a good plan and tight agenda you are prepared to have an efficient meeting. All it takes after that is to have a firm hand, stick to the schedule, and take care of your participants.

For other conference call questions, visit David Byrd at

David Byrd
June 18, 2008


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