Do you dread the thought of going into yet another meeting? You’re not alone. Even the most seasoned executives feel their stomachs clench at the prospect of a challenging meeting. No matter how many (or how few) participants you have, just getting everyone on the same page at the same time can be a major accomplishment.
In its recent “Wasting Time at Work” survey, career site Salary.com says employees chose “too many meetings” as their biggest distraction and time waster. If this sounds all too familiar, here are 7 strategies to make your next meeting go without a hitch:
- Set a clear agenda: Setting your meeting agenda in advance not only keeps you on track, it allows meeting attendees to be prepared and gives them a preview of your time frame for the meeting.
- Start and end on time: While it’s always tempting to wait for absolutely everyone to show up before starting a meeting, this can be frustrating to participants who are on time. Be sure to start your meeting out on the right foot and be respectful of everyone’s time by beginning and ending on time. ‘Nuff said.
- Do a little advance planning: If you think that your planned topics might inspire some heated discussion, it always helps to do a little advance planning. If your meeting includes decision-makers (people who approve or reject ideas), stakeholders (others who are directly affected by the ideas) and influencers (those who can persuade the above)—I like to do a little advance footwork. Ask for objections and input ahead of time. This can help you determine who will help you move your ideas forward and give you a heads-up on any likely stumbling blocks.
- Decide how to handle distractions: Anything can—and will—happen to sidetrack your meeting, from too much (and too frequent) technology to rambling co-workers to cynics or complainers. You’ll have a more effective meeting if you decide in advance how you’ll handle distractions. Depending on the style and format of your meeting, a good way to handle this is to change direction: if you’re smooth, you can change topics, ask a question or smoothly redirec t the conversation.
- Take a break: If you’re having a half-day or all-day meeting, be sure to build in a few breaks—it’s hard even for adults to be attentive for longer than an hour or so at a time. And, if you let everyone know that in advance, it should help curb the ever-present need to answer emails, texts and even phone calls.
- Use what you read: From LinkedIn to Facebook to Twitter, advice is everywhere these days. So, why not use it? Whether your meeting topic zeroes in on leadership, career goals, presentation skills or winning new business, there’s an article or a blog out there for you. Using a pertinent article you’ve read can be a great way to set the stage for your meeting, or to generate discussion on an issue or topic.
- Do a little brainstorming: Handled correctly, brainstorming can be a great, effective way to draw out the best ideas (even from the quiet ones) and stimulate discussion. Handled incorrectly, it can turn into a free-for-all, so make sure you use your best facilitation skills. I often use this technique when the group I’m meeting with isn’t sure exactly what they want to do regarding a particular issue. The secret is to plan at least 5 questions ahead of time that you can use to inspire ideas and conversation. The trick is, of course, you must be able to bring your participants back to you—it just takes a little practice!