5 Ways to Keep Your Meeting on Track

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A research study by Steven Rogelberg of the University of North Carolina surveyed 182 senior managers in a variety of industries. His findings showed 65 percent of respondents felt meetings kept them from completing their own work and 71 percent believed meetings to be unproductive and inefficient. Whether poor preparation, idle chatter, or lack of direction are to blame, the results are the same: Bad meetings are a waste of time and money. Here are a few tricks to keep your meeting on track.

Have an agenda. Microsoft founder Bill Gates often is quoted as saying “You have a meeting to make a decision, not to decide on the question.” Before you schedule your meeting, prepare an agenda and detail the time allotted to each topic. Send it to participants in advance so everyone knows what will and won’t be covered.

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Set the stage. A meeting space that discourages distractions and interruptions will help maintain focus. Make sure the location is quiet and uncluttered. Some experts suggest making meetings a phone- and laptop-free zone for optimum efficiency. Designate one employee to take detailed notes and send them to the group in a follow up email.

Choose attendees carefully. In an email to Tesla staff, Elon Musk once advised employees to “Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value.” Only invite people who have a stake in the subject matter. Too many voices will muddy the conversation, too few may not provide enough diversity of opinion.

Avoid over discussion and tangents. The surest way to lose focus, is to depart from the agenda. Table off-topic discussions for future meetings. If a topic takes more than three back-and-forth exchanges between participants, table it for a separate meeting. Once a matter is settled, move on. Avoid rehashing things you’ve already discussed.

Stick to the schedule. Arrange your agenda so the meeting has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Aim to end the meeting early and let everyone know that’s the goal early on. Participants will be less likely to talk too long if it ruins everyone’s chance at getting out early. Use a visible timer so everyone stays aware of the time.

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