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.


May 302019

Chairing the meeting is a leadership role. You must be ready and able to stand up and kick off the meeting without sounding nervous or uncomfortable. Your ability to communicate early in the meeting sets the tone of the meeting. Chairing a meeting effectively takes time to develop and requires practice.

Getting Off on the Right Foot

Opening your meeting effectively requires both a technique and a flow. The SIGNALS flow gives you an easy model to follow when opening the meeting. Here is a breakdown of the acronym:

Salutation is opening the meeting by welcoming and greeting your participants

Introduction is where you introduce who you are

Guest mentioned is where you introduce those attendees that are special guests

Need-to-know is a list of things like logistics, bathroom location, fire exits, general meeting format that is shared with the attendees

Agenda is where you discuss the purpose of the meeting and give a brief overview of the agenda

“Laws of the meeting” is where you discuss how the meeting is going to run. This includes policies on electronic devices, participation, and handling conflict.

Segue is the part of your introduction that links this part to the next topic, which in this case will be the role of the agenda.

Practicing your opening is the best way to become better at it. Over time, you will develop your own style, which will be comfortable to you. In any case, you will need to do it in order for you to learn it.

The Role of the Agenda

The agenda is an entity that plays a vital role like the chairperson or minute taker. Is should not be ignored, because if it is ignored, your meeting will experience time and participant management problems. Many times meetings run over or are cut short leaving topics unaddressed that were on the agenda. Consistently missing the agenda time and topics is a sign of poor meeting management. Here is a list of items the agenda accomplishes when handled as a role at the beginning of the meeting:

  • The agenda communicates:
    • Meeting topics
    • Presenters
    • Time allotment for each speaker
  • The agenda provides focus by:
    • Stating the meeting objectives clearly
    • Outlining the meeting in increments of time
    • Providing a checklist of things to accomplish in the meeting
    • Allowing the attendees to see both the beginning and the end of the meeting, avoiding them becoming distracted when they are left wondering when this meeting end will

Here is a sample introduction of how to introduce the agenda as a role at the beginning of the meeting:

“The agenda today will help us meet today’s goal of deriving a good sales strategy. We have four presenters who are going to discuss how to present the new product, handle objections, gain commitment, and close the sale. The agenda will be our guide so we can stay on track and finish on time.”

Simply handing out the agenda does not communicate its role. You must introduce it like any other person that has a role in the meeting.

Using a Parking Lot

Using a parking lot in your meetings provides a place where topics that cannot be answered during the meeting are noted for follow up later. Sometimes the topics in the parking lot may be answered during the course of the meeting, but this is unusual. The parking lot is simple to implement. You could create a physical place by using piece of flip chart paper with sticky notes. Perhaps you prefer electronic documentation. You can collect parking lot topics onto a spreadsheet. Whatever you choose, you need to have a basic format. Here are some things to consider:

  • Take a few moments to share with the attendees how the parking lot works
    • Meant for topics that require follow up after the meeting
    • Hold questions that can be answered later in the meeting
  • Provide brief instruction on how to register a parking lot issue
    • Provide the question or topic, name, and contact information, on a sticky note or verbally to the minute taker
    • Chairperson will review parking lot topics to determine if the topic requires follow up after the meeting.
    • Follow up communication will be sent to all the members of the meeting

The parking lot is helpful in managing your time. It gives you the ability to move off a topic that requires more research and time to develop. Remember to check the parking lot at the end of the meeting and always be sure to follow up when you say you will.