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.

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