Business meetings can be helpful, and even necessary, but too often they waste time, get sidetracked, and end up accomplishing very little. Good planning and preparation will keep your meetings short and effective, though. Follow these guidelines to make sure your business meetings always stay on track and end on time.

Preparation

If you want to run an efficient meeting, you have to prepare for it. The first step is identifying what you hope to accomplish. Not just the main purpose of the meeting, you need to specify every point you want made and every sub-goal that needs to be met. Establish a clearly defined outcome you want to see for each point.

Next comes making a schedule for the meeting. Place the most important items at the start, so that if you don’t get to address everything, at least you should get through the most important stuff. Put controversial matters later in the schedule, so if they cause lengthy disagreements, the disruption to your schedule is minimal.

Choose your invitees carefully. More is not always better. Try to avoid inviting people who tend to be disruptive, or who talk over other people. Invite only people who are essential, and you know you can trust to be fast and professional, if at all possible. If not everybody you invite knows each other, schedule an introduction period at the start of the meeting, but keep it short. Just have attendees state their name, their role in the organization, and the reason they are at the meeting.

Distribute the meeting agenda and schedule, along with all other needed information, before the meeting. Make sure that everyone has the time they need to read through everything. Never give attendees handouts at the start of the meeting, or they’ll be leafing through them instead of paying attention. When you send out the agenda, include a statement that the meeting will not only start at a certain time, but end at a certain time. Doing so sends the message that you want a fast, efficient meeting.

Before the Business Meeting

If you have a presentation to make, rehearse it. Get to the meeting space early and make sure that any equipment you need to use is there and working properly. If the meeting is going to run over 30 minutes, set out drinks and maybe snacks.

During the Meeting

When you introduce the meeting, make sure your tone is businesslike. This is not a social situation. If you start things off on a serious note, and tell everyone that you want the meeting to end on time, you can motivate everyone to behave seriously and efficiently.

Monitor attendees’ body language throughout the meeting. When you see attendees slouching or looking disinterested, get them back on track by asking for their suggestions or opinions.

If a speaker goes on for too long, take control back with a polite but firm interruption such as, “We need to get on to the next item on the agenda. Can we discuss the details in an email?”

If an argument remains unresolved for too long and threatens to disrupt the meeting schedule, organize a separate business meeting to resolve the issue at a later date, then get back to the other items on the agenda.

The Takeaway

With the proper care and preparation, your business meetings can be fast and efficient. You’ll waste less time and effort, get more done, and develop a reputation for effectiveness that will serve you well in your business career.


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