Pens are clicking, feet are tapping, and people are moving uncomfortably in their chairs, frowning as they glance at their watches.
You’re familiar with the painful signs of a long, drawn-out meeting. You used to sit in those same seats.
But now here you stand, legal pad in hand, with pages of information that you still need to cover.
You never imagined you would be the one running a meeting people dread going to.
Plan to give everyone a break next time with these quick tips.
Determine If a Meeting is Even Necessary:
Before you book the conference room and add your meeting to the company calendar, you may want to ask yourself if a sit-down meeting is really the most productive approach.
“Whether or not you need to meet at all should be considered for every meeting, not just hard-to-schedule ones. Any meeting without a clear objective, if not a formal agenda, should be on the chopping block,” says Laura Stark, a productivity expert and author of “What To Do When There’s Too Much To Do.”
She recommends the use of conference calls and emails in place of meetings whenever possible.
Have a Goal in Mind:
Having a specific purpose for every meeting and sticking to the chosen topics can give your meeting direction and eliminate off-topic conversation.
Dr. Jan Yager, a time management expert and author of “Work Less, Do More: The 14-Day Productivity Makeover,” suggests that each meeting have what she refers to as action steps. “Everyone at the meeting should be able to do something that they could not do before the meeting, whether that is because they have now shared information, discussed a project that needed clarification, or learned something that they did not know before,” Yager says.
She also points out that having too many goals can overwhelm attendees, so keeping a simple, narrow focus is usually best.
Invite Only Those You Need:
Most people have had the frustrating experience of sitting through a meeting wondering why they’re even there. “More is not merrier when it comes to business meetings,” says Stark. “Some meetings are full of wallflowers who need to know what’s going on, but don’t necessarily need to contribute. Distributing information electronically can condense time and the attendance list.”
For those who only need to be present for 10 minutes of the meeting, she recommends giving those individuals the first 10 minutes, and then allowing them to leave.
Stark notes that in some situations, it may seem polite to invite higher-ups, shareholders, and other important figures to a meeting, but it’s probably not necessary.
“Always assume anyone higher up the food chain has something better to do. If you simply want to keep them in the loop, select their presence as optional,” suggests Stark.
They could also be emailed after the meeting with the points that were covered.
Email Your Agenda Ahead of Time:
Creating a list of topics to be covered at the meeting and sending them to your attendees in advance can help ensure that everyone comes to the meeting prepared.
“A basic agenda should include a statement of purpose, logistical considerations, decisions to be made and topics to discuss in order of priority, including who is responsible for each item and the time allotted for each,” says Stark.
She then suggests that this document be strictly followed throughout the course of the meeting to make certain everything is covered.
Providing an agenda also gives optional attendees the ability to decide whether or not their presence is needed.
Start and End on Time:
You may be reluctant to start a meeting knowing several of your key attendees have not arrived, or hesitant to end a meeting knowing there are still topics that need to be discussed.
In these scenarios, it’s important that everyone’s time be respected. Like a professor, consider starting on time—regardless of who is or isn’t present—to make a point.
This way, colleagues will begin to take your start times more seriously. Yager suggests making your start time very clear, especially in those corporate cultures where starting 10 minutes late is the norm.
“Don’t have a range of time for the meeting to start, such as between 10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m., as that can lead to someone being late without actually being late,” Yager says.
Regardless of the start time or what information is left to cover, meetings should always end at the specified end time. “It’s usually better to end a little early than a little late.
Most people will get annoyed if you go past the agreed ending time because they usually have another meeting or other plans,” Yager advises. She also recommends using a timer or an individual to help monitor the pace. Information that hasn’t been covered can either be tabled until the next meeting or detailed in an email.
Favor Specific, On-Topic Questions:
There always seems to be one person at every meeting who opens discussions unrelated to the agenda.
These individuals can quickly add minutes to your meeting and get others—including you—off track. “There are ways you can bring the discussion back to the reason for the meeting without being rude,” says Yager.
She suggests a phrase such as, “I appreciate you bringing that up, but since the key reason for this meeting is (fill in topic), let’s you and I exchange emails on that point.”
Afterward, politely request that further contributions to the meeting focus on the agenda.
In other instances, someone who has relevant information or feedback to share may not seem to know when to stop talking. Interrupt the loquacious individual with a phrase such as, “You’ve made a great point.
Unfortunately, because of the time allotted we have to move on to the next item, but we can discuss this at length later.”