Jun 132019

Dealing with Disruptions in a Meeting

Disruptions in the meeting are bound to happen. Personal technology keeps participants constantly connected to the outside world. Frequent disruptions could impede the effectiveness of your meeting and become distracting to those who are focused on the meeting. Furthermore, poorly managing disruptions will reflect on the chairperson or meeting organizer. The key to mitigating disruptions is to plan for them and setting expectations.

In this module, you will learn how to deal with participants constantly running in and out of your meeting, cell phones, off topic discussions and conflicts. The goal is to reduce the affect. It is very difficult to avoid these distractions. It is human nature. Let us begin the module with a lesson on how to deal with participants constantly leaving the meeting.

Running in and Out

Constant disruptions caused by attendees running in and out of your meeting will affect the experience for the other attendees. We often take it for granted that attendees will stay in the meeting and not leave. Therefore, we do not discuss this issue very often at the beginning of the meetings. Addressing this form of distraction is best done proactively. Using the SIT technique helps your set the expectation regarding running in and out of the meeting. Next, incorporating frequent breaks lessens the changes of participants leaving the room, and finally giving timely feedback to those who break the rule is necessary in order to stop frequent violators. Let us review each step in more detail.

Set expectations: tell your participants at the beginning of the meeting what you expect of them when it comes to staying in the meeting room. Tell them the effects of constantly running in and out of the meeting on the presenter and other participants. Let all the participants know that if they need to leave the room to do so only if it is an emergency and if it is a severe problem, that they should leave the meeting. They will be more of a distraction if they stay.

Incorporate frequent breaks: at the beginning of your meeting, tell the participants they will get a five-minute break every hour the meeting lasts. Establishing this up front let the participants know when to expect a break and wait until then to call people back, etc.

Timely feedback given to those who break the rules: when you have a person still running in and out of your meeting, it is best to address that with them as soon as possible. If you have a problem participant, quietly leave the room and wait for them outside. Speak with the participant in a respectful manner and tell them that their behavior is disrupting the meeting. Ask if they are experiencing an emergency and if they need to leave. If they are not in an emergency, tell the participant if they could wait until the scheduled breaks to do what they have to do.

Cell Phone and PDA Ringing

Most people know to silent their cell phones and PDA’s when entering a meeting. However, they may forget every so often. Your job as the meeting manger is to remind them. Here are a couple of steps you can take to remind your participants to turn off those phones.

Place signs in the room instructing participants to silence their cell phone and PDA’s. They can be humorous and light-hearted. In any case, you will get your message across.

Make an announcement at the beginning of the meeting instructing the participants to turn off their cell phone or PDA now. The signs are a back-up in case you forget to do this.

Since the participants will most likely looking at the agenda, place a reminder there too. This way you have several areas where the participants can get the message.

One cell phone or PDA going off in the middle of the meeting could lead to a disruption that could last a couple of minutes. You can reduce this type of disruption by almost 100 percent by just mentioning it at the beginning of the meeting and providing reminder signs.

Off on a Tangent

This is by far the most difficult to manage in a meeting. The biggest challenge is to redirect without offending the participants. Using the EAR technique helps to do this in three simple steps.

Engage the conversation by becoming contributor for a moment. The goal is not to carry the conversation, but to gain some control by getting the meeting floor. Once engaged you are able to go to the next step.

Acknowledge that the topic is valid and worthy of discussion. This should be a short and affirming statement. This avoids embarrassment of those who carried the conversation when it is time to redirect.

Redirect the participants back to the conversation. This brief statement ends the last discussion and starts up the previous one that was on topic.

Here is a sample EAR script:

Participant on a tangent: I think pizza for breakfast is the best! There is now doubt about it.

Meeting manager: I am willing to try pizza for breakfast. It can’t be that bad.

Meeting manager: Perhaps you represent a large number of pizza lovers that enjoy the same thing you do. I won’t knock it until I try it.

Meeting manager: Now, let’s get back to the problem of employee morale in the call center. Who has some ideas they can share?

Granted the topic was embellished, but this last script demonstrated the steps clearly. Using EAR will help you master the meeting room every time the conversation goes astray.

Personality Conflict

Sometimes a meeting could result in conflict. This may be true of meetings where new teams are storming together and forming the team. Conflict could arise when two participants with opposing views clash. In any case, conflict in a meeting has to be managed. There is an acceptable degree of tension, which is normal in debates. However, when the tension turns in to outright conflict, the focus turns from the meeting to the spectacle that is the conflict. Your job as a meeting manager is to diffuse the conflict and restore order in the meeting. Allowing conflict to go unchecked could fester into a bigger problem for everyone in the meeting. The news of the conflict will spread quickly and how you managed, it will be scrutinized. Here are three steps to take when conflict arises.

  1. Stop: Stop the conflict by intervening and making a statement that acknowledges the conflict. Do not become frustrated yourself. Avoid taking sides. Never yell. Be professional and calm. Simply state that the discussion has turned personal and that it needs to stop.
  2. Drop: instruct the parties in conflict to drop the discussion for now and regain their composure. There is no need to carry on if the discussion is counterproductive.
  3. Roll: roll into a break. Even if you just got back from one, take a break and send the participants away for a moment. Call on the parties in conflict and hold a brief expectations meeting. You are not there to resolve personal conflict. However, you must manage the conflict because it is your meeting. Tell the persons in conflict that they must immediately stop the behavior. Restate the need for the meeting and that healthy debate is always welcomed. Have them agree to behave for the remainder of the meeting.

The meeting room is no place to try to resolve the deeper issues of the conflict. On the other hand, if the participants are all a part of a team that will meet regularly, then this issue has to be addressed in a coaching session and not in front of spectators.


Jun 062019

Keeping the Meeting on Track

In this post, you will learn techniques on how to keep your meeting on track, deal with overtime and holding participants accountable. Doing all this requires focus and a sense of doing what is right for the sake of all your attendees. Neglecting this could affect the meeting experience for many who will sit there and silently criticize your meeting management skills. Worse yet, they may get up and walk out, because they feel they are wasting their time. Let us begin by learning how to keep the meeting on track.

Keeping the Meeting on Track

In order to keep your meeting on track, you should set clear expectations on how time management will be used in the meeting. Setting expectations up front avoids surprised and indignation from the presenter, because they are not caught off guard. In addition, as a chairperson, you must feel comfortable interrupting the presenter when necessary. Many times the presenter would like to be told their time is up. This way they do not have to worry about time. The STOP technique helps to keep your meeting on track by doing the following:

Set expectations: letting your presenters and attendees know you intend on managing the agenda vigorously removes the element of surprise. When you neglect to set time management expectations, you are subject to an array of reactions from the presenter and attendees. It may be taken as rude behavior. It does not have to be that way. Let the presenter know that you will give them a signal at five and two minutes remaining. In addition, set expectations for questions and answers. Telling attendees to write their questions down to be asked at the end of the presentation avoids unnecessary interruptions, potentially side tracking the conversation.

Time the presenter: using a timer is the best way to manage the time of your meeting. Keep to the allotted time for both the presentation and the question and answer activity. Always provide a warning time so the presenter does not have to stop abruptly.

Overcome fear of interrupting: perhaps you do not have a problem with this, but there are many who see interrupting someone as rude and find it difficult to do. The best way to overcome this is by setting those expectations upfront. This way you know the presenter is expecting an interruption. The same holds true for questions being asked. If left unchecked, you could lose a lot of time by allowing excessive questions. Use your parking lot to hold questions that require more thought in answering. Call time on questions and answers so you can move to the next topic.

Politely warn people time is nearing: avoid being harsh and rigid. Treating others with respect is the best way to keep the meeting moving and with plenty of participation. You do not want them to shut down because you are becoming a tyrant.

Dealing with Overtime

Going into overtime presents several problems. Once the meeting extends beyond its original end time, you will begin to lose the attendees’ attention. This is particularly obvious in large meetings. No matter what size meeting you are dealing with, the goal to dealing with overtime is to acknowledge it before it happens. Look at the agenda and determine if you will need to go over. If you do, then do the following to mitigate the effects of going into overtime:

Determine your constraints

    • Is the room or venue available for overtime
    • Do attendees have to travel and cannot stay
  • Warn attendees in advance that the meeting will over run
  • Determine how much more time will be needed
  • Communicate the extra time to the attendees
  • In a small meeting, gain consensus to go into overtime
  • Give choices
    • In a large meeting, provide a brief break at the normal end time so those who have to leave will do so during the break and not the meeting
    • In a small meeting, allow those who need to leave to do so
  • If overtime is not an option, determine what agenda items will be missed and plan an alternative way of getting the information to the attendees
    • Follow up email
    • Topic saved for next meeting

If you do not manage overtime, then you will see frustration build among the attendees. Have a plan in place so you know what to do once you determine if your meeting is going to run longer than expected.

Holding Participants Accountable

In a meeting, it may be difficult to hold participants accountable. Participation, questioning, and preparedness could easily be overlooked. Holding your participants accountable involves communication.

Here are three basic steps you can take to holding your participants accountable:

  1. Set your expectations: in advance, perhaps in your invitation you should outline what you expect from the participants in this meeting. You may need them to bring questions, or help by providing information. You may want them to participate with vigor. In any case, you must outline what you expect of them before you can hold them to a standard or expectation.
  2. Clarify the consequences: let the participants know how you plan to hold them accountable. Perhaps you can warn that you will be calling on everyone for answers. You may also leverage their manager if applicable. You may say that you will be sending the meeting minutes to their supervisors where they can see if they participated or not.
  3. Follow through: if you said you would do something, then you have to do it. Do not get into the habit of making empty threats. People will respect you and will naturally be accountable to you because of your work ethic.

Most participants do not want to be on the “bad” side. They want to contribute. Your ability to assert yourself and communicate with clarity your expectations, consequences and determination will make this an easy process with practice.