How to plan and execute better business meetings

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You’re asking them for their time, so make it clear you respect that precious resource.

Publish your agenda well in advance, and if you can send the agenda with the invitation that’s even better – a fixed start and end time and durations for each topic let people know you have thought this meeting through.

Running the meeting
If you make it a habit to start all meetings on time, people will come to expect just that.

At the beginning of the meeting insist that mobile phones be turned off, laptops shut and tablets put to one side. Set the example yourself and ensure your own mobile phone, laptop and tablet are all turned off.

Go over the agenda quickly to make sure everybody understands what is to be covered.

Some people might want to add points and others might have to step out at the times you had earmarked for their participation, so you might need to modify the agenda. But try not to get bogged down in making these changes.

The best way to avoid getting derailed is to poll people beforehand to make sure they generally agree with what’s to be covered.

During the meeting, stick to the agenda. When the discussion goes off in directions that are unproductive, remind people of the topic and the timetable.

If you uncover something interesting that needs further treatment, you can schedule a discussion outside the meeting.

Meeting management techniques
1 The time box.
One technique that helps people stick firmly to the set agenda is to time box. You set aside a specific amount of time for an issue and once that time is up you move on to something else, whether or not all points were covered.

Time boxing communicates to people that time is precious.

2 Pass the gavel.Another technique — and one that helps ensure each participant gets to talk — is to pass the gavel.

Only the person who has the gavel gets to speak. Then he or she passes it on to the next person. You could even mix time boxing and passing the gavel: each person gets a fixed amount of time to speak and then yields to the next person.

Before making a big decision, try passing the gavel.

Or you can make a ritual out of it: at the end of every meeting, pass the gavel to give everybody a chance to talk at least once.

Finish on a conclusion
As soon as any decision is made, make sure everybody knows that, and immediately write what was decided in the minutes. Few things are less productive than a situation where people leave a meeting with no two attendees having the same idea of what was decided.

If you are building up to a decision that will be made later (as might be the case when you are brainstorming), make that clear too.

Sometimes you intend to make a decision but it becomes apparent that you don’t have all the information you need or maybe some of the key players are absent.

In this case, you should make sure everybody understands that the decision will be postponed. Make it clear when the decision will be made and how.

Just as it’s important to start on time, for all the same reasons, you should make it a habit to end meetings on time. At the end of the meeting, make sure everybody understands what the actions are and who is responsible for each one.

Publish the minutes shortly after the meeting and follow up on the actions.

If you follow these rules, your meetings will be more productive.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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