Time, Please! How to Call Order on Your Meetings

Author: Cronofy

9th February 2014

We do battle with the imposition of time in many areas of life – use-by dates on the cheese in the fridge, train timetables that rarely hold true, alarm clocks that always seem to go off just five minutes too soon. But of all the time-munching issues we face, it is the thought of meetings that go on for hours like runaway trains that strike real fear into the heart.

We’ve all been there – timed agendas that the minute secretary painstakingly puts together only for the chairman, and other attendees, to completely ignore. Discussions that, slowly but surely, go way off topic and eat into precious minutes that everyone knows could be better spent elsewhere. But no-one says anything, and next meeting it happens all over again, like a bad case of boardroom déja vu.

Of course, meetings in themselves aren’t inherently inefficient or a waste of time. Done properly, meetings are something of an art form. But the problem is that most of us have lost the knack of planning, preparing for, hosting and being part of an efficient meeting. Too often things get out of control, schedules go out of the window and whole days are lost to these unproductive, and uncomfortable, sessions.

Research by Epson and Cebr revealed that workers feel 2 hours and 39 minutes are wasted in meetings during their average week. And it takes just 11 minutes sat round a table with seemingly endless spreadsheets, pie charts and business jargon for their attention to drift.

Let’s do something about it.

Be prepared

Whoever is responsible for putting together the agenda must take their role seriously. A comprehensive yet concise timed agenda is vital and will help participants understand their role. All participants should be given the opportunity to raise items for the agenda.

When you distribute it be sure to point out any items that have been allocated particularly long or short segments – this highlights their importance or urgency accordingly. It is also wise to have in mind the points that could, if necessary, be put back to a later meeting in case things do take longer than expected.

You shouldn’t have to say it, but if you know topics are difficult or contentious then remind everyone of the importance of their preparation and cooperation in sticking to the agenda.

Stand up

The chairman must stand up to anyone who is causing distractions, going off topic or rambling.

Also, have you ever held a meeting standing up? You’d be amazed at how much smoother things flow when everyone is upright and it forces them to hold their attention and you could also find that meetings do not last as long.

Set the standards and the tone

Be clear on what is expected from each participant, and stick to the rules. As soon as one person flouts a convention others will follow and you could end up in chaos before you can say “I’d just like to reiterate …”

Mix things up

If you have regular meetings with the same people then trends can start to emerge. Have everyone sit in a different place each time, or meet in a different venue. A change is as good as a rest and can bring renewed enthusiasm.

And now for something completely different

If all else fails, try some of these light-hearted ideas to get your participants to toe the line.

  • Anyone who is late/forgets their agenda pays £1 to the charity of choice for that year.
  • Anyone who causes a disruption buys the coffee and biscuits for the next meeting.
  • Use the Countdown clock jingle to get chatters to shut up!
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Date: 9th February 2014 | Category: Productivity