MINIMIZING MEETING MAYHEM
For many people, meetings are a fact of life. Whether it’s a board or member meeting here in our association, a volunteer meeting at your child’s school or a department meeting at work, being adept at participating effectively and managing meetings is a useful skill.
Sometimes one or two participants will dominate the discussion, steer it off topic and interrupt others, causing long, uncomfortable or unproductive meetings. Whether you’re the meeting chair or a participant, there are techniques you can use to help engage others, limit intrusions and minimize distractions.
- Table the discussion. If a conversation is getting particularly heated, the chair or a participant can move to table the discussion for a later date. This helps clear the air and allows for a calmer and more meaningful conversation at the next meeting. It also sends the signal that debates will be conducted rationally and with respect.
- Take it offline. When a meeting attendee takes a topic off course, everyone’s time is wasted. A good tool for the chair to use—or for another attendee to suggest—to get the meeting back on track is to invite the member to continue the discussion privately. Saying, “Let’s take this offline so we can talk more,” is an easy way to get back on the subject without alienating the sidetracked speaker.
- Use the agenda. The agenda is a useful tool for keeping a meeting moving efficiently. When a chair begins a meeting by saying, “We have a full agenda today,” he or she sets the stage for productivity. Periodically referring to the agenda during the course of the meeting keeps all attendees focused on the discussion. If the chair doesn’t have an agenda, ask the group pause a minute to create an informal agenda that simply lists the topics to be covered or goals to be accomplished.
- Call on members. To engage more reticent members of the group, and to balance the impact of more vocal participants, it’s helpful to call on members by name to ask for their opinions. “What do you think, Mary?” or “Do you have some input here, Steve?” ensures that all members are valued. And you don’t have be the chair to ask for others’ opinions.
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