5 Steps to Running an Efficient Meeting

Business people at a conference table taking notes with pen and paperI leave a meeting at the 90-minute mark – unless I have been notified beforehand that a meeting is scheduled to run longer. Most meetings can be run effectively in 90 minutes or less. I’m an entrepreneur with deadlines to meet and if you’re not paying me by the hour to be there, you’re cutting into my profitability.

Most meetings I attend outside of client meetings are for volunteer groups. Chambers of commerce. Sub-chambers of commerce. Toastmasters. Society of Professional Journalists. I also run meetings for my Business Networking International chapter and my chamber marketing committee. You can bet that unless there is an overwhelming reason to go over, when I chair a meeting, it adjourns at 90 minutes or less.

Here are five steps I take to ensure that happens:

One: Have an agenda

An agenda is your planning guide for the meeting. It lets people know what is expected. It’s also your timing guide. Once you have run enough meetings, you will have a pretty clear idea how long each agenda item will take. But if you’re a newbie to running a meeting, include times on the agenda: 10 minutes for Item A, 15 minutes for Item B – and ensure that it all adds up to 90 minutes.

Two: Be a clock-watcher

If Item A is scheduled to take 10 minutes and it actually takes 12, you need to adjust for Items B, C, and D. Otherwise, you’ll run out of time before you conclude the agenda. The other option is to shelve the least important or least time-sensitive agenda item for the next meeting.

Three: Control your attendees

You are chairing the meeting. It is your responsibility to ensure the meeting begins on time and ends on time. It’s a fine balancing act to allow ample discussion of an issue and cutting off unproductive conversation, but that’s your role. If the discussion tends to veer off-course, gently guide it back on track. “This is a fun (good, important) discussion, but it’s not addressing the issue at hand. The issue at hand is …” Doing it with a smile helps.

Four: Announce how much time is left for the last agenda item

This signals to the attendees that the meeting is about to wrap up. It also lets them know there is a concrete time to discuss the next issue on the agenda. You’ll be surprised at how focused meeting attendees can be when that announcement is made.

Five: Do not allow anyone to bully you

It rarely happens in business meetings, but it does happen. In a networking meeting I chaired, one of the attendees decided that he didn’t agree with the time limit set to ask questions of the guest speaker. He was determined to ask his question after time expired. I assured him he could ask his question – after the meeting – but we had an agenda to get through and it was not fair for the others to prolong that agenda item. He began to ask his question anyway, and I cut him off by beginning discussion of the next point on the agenda. He began to yell at me and went on a two- or three-minute tirade about how I was out of line and he was going to ask his question whether I liked it or not. I just sat there, looked him straight in the eye, and took his berating silently. Then, when he began to ask his question again, I cut him off by starting discussion on the next agenda item. He stood up and walked toward me, yelling. He was a big man. I am not. I just sat there quietly with my best you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me look. After about 30 seconds, he stormed out and we continued the meeting. We ended on time and he never returned.

Notice I did not react to his bullying except to move the agenda along. Had I tried to argue with him, I would have lost control of the meeting. An argument is what he wanted. Don’t take the bait.

As a meeting chair, you are responsible for planning the meeting, controlling the time, guiding the discussion, signaling discussion is coming to an end, and ensuring no one person hijacks the meeting. Do that and you will have professionals clamoring to attend your meetings and the non-professionals will stay away.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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