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If you want to control your time, control your meetings.

We've all got too much to do, that is certain. Unless we stay focussed on the right things we risk not achieving all we are capable of. One area where people report that they waste more time than anything else is in meetings. Here are some practical tips to help you retrieve a significant amount of time from poorly run meetings.

If you are the person calling and chairing the meeting you have the most opportunity to influence the outcome. It is essential that you invest some time to ensure you save time later. 

  1. The most important thing is that you are absolutely clear about the purpose for the meeting. Write it down. Now as chairman of the meeting it is your responsibility to ensure everyone sticks to the purpose. Rest assured attendees will, more often than not, divert away from the purpose and discuss all sorts of other items of interest. The way to handle these diversions is to politely interrupt and say that that is not the purpose of the meeting. Then add an action item assigned to the person that caused the diversion to set up a meeting to cover that topic. This achieves several things a) people don't like walking out of meetings with loads of actions. They will soon catch on to the fact that if they divert, they get an extra action. b) it raises the bar for the cost of discussing the diversion. You are saying "hey, previously it was free to discuss diversions in my meetings but not any longer. Now there is a cost. Are you sure you want to pay the price?" Most often people will decline the action immediately or will fail to follow through. Either way it means you have kept your meeting diversion free.
  2. Setting a clear agenda is really important to ensure the flow of the meeting fits the purpose of the meeting. The agenda should lead everyone step-by-step until the purpose is achieved. As chairman it is your job to ensure the agenda is agreed up front and then that everyone sticks to the agenda. If you do this the meeting will finish on time and everyone will thank you for it.
  3. Agree the rules up front and publicly. If you have one or more difficult people in your meetings you need to enlist the power of the crowd to keep them in line. Write a few simple rules based on good manners that you put on the wall and agree at the start of the meeting. Rules based on good manners are hard to disagree with so you shouldn't have any trouble getting agreement on them. Explain to everyone up front that you are getting the rules agreed so that your meetings will run to time and will get things done and that it is for everyone's benefit. If anyone starts to break the rules at any time (they always do), gently remind them of the rules they agreed to at the start and move the meeting on. 

If you are not the chairman but just an attendee then the following tips may help:

  1. Your job in a meeting is to help the chairman stick to the purpose and agenda. You can either help or hinder. If you go into a meeting with a bad attitude then you'll generally hinder progress. Often if you have a weak chairman the meeting will go off topic frequently. Help the chairman by steering discussion back on track wherever you can. Discipline yourself to only stick to the purpose of the meeting. If you find you've diverted off purpose, apologise and restate the current agenda item to get back on track. You'll be surprised how an apology like this with a statement about sticking to the purpose and agenda can remind everyone to stay on track.
  2. If someone diverts the meeting politely suggest that they are off topic and that maybe they should set up a separate meeting.
  3. Show the chairman this article.
  4. Offer to take the notes for the meeting. This puts you in a position of influence. As you are typing you can look up and ask, "do you want me to note that as it seems to be off topic?"

By having a clear purpose and agenda and then sticking to it you can achieve what you want to achieve in a shorter period of time and so save yourself time; make your meetings painless and productive.


Using the right noting tool for your meetings can help you save time. Take a look at what Meeting Gold can do for you - click here.

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