As often as many of us attend and run meetings, bad meetings still happen. While you can blame meeting participants for that (and it may be true in some cases), the responsibility is on the meeting leader to keep everyone in line. If you’re a meeting leader and you sometimes find yourself feeling like a circus ringleader, here are six ways you can regain your footing when meetings go astray.
Refer Back to the Agenda
Always have an agenda. Without it, you’ll find that getting to your meeting goals is a long and winding road. Even with an agenda, however, things can get off track, especially in longer meetings. Refer back to the important items listed on it as needed so that everyone is reminded of what needs to get done.
Some interruptions just happen, and they’re quick and insignificant enough to let slide (such as someone getting up to use the restroom or a brief technical glitch). Many interruptions, though, can have a significant impact on the focus of the meeting, especially if they become a pattern – and they’re avoidable. When people have side conversations or regularly interrupt others’ when they’re speaking, it sets a negative tone and causes tension in the room. Put your foot down when these things happen and set ground rules for meeting behavior to keep wayward meeting participants in line.
Hand Out Materials As Needed
Passing out handouts at the start of a meeting is practically second nature to those who are used to leading. However, a better practice is to hand them out only as they are needed – that is, when the related agenda item comes up. People may be tempted to look through all the handouts if they’re handed out at all at once, which can serve as a distraction.
Set Speaking Time Limits
All agenda items should have a time limit listed next to them. Additionally, all speakers should be given guidelines on how long they have to speak. These guidelines can be somewhat flexible, but should take into account all other speakers in the room. For example, if you’re doing a round robin where everyone shares updates on their projects, limit each person to two minutes for their update. This approach ensures that everyone’s time is respected.
Table Off-Topic Discussion
Even valid tangential topics are still off-topic from what’s on the agenda. If a subject comes up that is worth discussing, but it isn’t the time for it, cut the current discussion about it short and mark it to be discussed at a later time. Don’t forget to make good on your word so that you keep the tradition of tabling these discussions sacred.
Act with Confidence
As the meeting leader, you are accountable for all other participants in the meeting. But don’t forget that you’re accountable for your own behavior, too. If you act like a doormat, you’ll be treated as such, no matter how well you get along with your colleagues. Assert yourself by standing or sitting tall, using positive body language, and speaking clearly while projecting your voice. Stay engaged with everyone in the room, especially those who seem to be getting bored or disinterested, so that participants know you mean business. It’s up to you as the meeting leader to act the part.