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If only businesses put time and energy into training executives to maximize meeting time and make them as productive as possible! Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. Meetings have a bad reputation, often deserved. Very little is accomplished and attendees often walk away annoyed (or even angry) that they wasted valuable time. They’re not the only ones who squandered their time and resources. Companies fare no better. It’s a financial and time drain to tie up people in a room for any length of time.

On the other hand, if handled correctly, meetings serve an important function and are often key to the success of a company. They are an ideal time to brainstorm and make collaborative decisions. And that’s not all – meetings provide a forum where strategies are formulated and decisions are made on how to achieve them. By setting goals and establishing the outcome ahead of time, a meeting can function at a high level and be productive. Meeting attendees will feel appreciated and the company benefits from the high level thinking and the creativity resulting from the meeting.

Would you like to know how to set up your next meeting for success?  Here are several tips:

Invite the people who count. Meeting organizers tend to invite more people than necessary out of concern that they do not want to exclude anyone and hurt their feelings. But best practices advise otherwise — the fewer people, the better. Keep the meeting small, inviting only those who can help accomplish the meeting’s goals. Usually these are the key decision makers who will help ensure the success of the meeting. The one exception is when opinions are needed. Then, a larger group may be better. (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

Bring in the group that can accomplish the task. Once key decisions have been made, it makes sense to bring in a larger group to be introduced to the strategy. This can be as many as 25-40 participants. Once everyone is familiar with the assignment, the group can break into teams and execute the ideas.

Create an agenda. It sets the tone for the meeting. Meeting attendees are more likely to take the meeting seriously when they know the planning behind it. They also are more likely to be active participants. Suggestion: before the meeting, ask attendees for discussion points to make sure that their pertinent points are discussed and to gain their buy in.

Send the agenda and material you want read ahead of time and as early as possible. Be clear about location, date, time and objective of the meeting. Use specific verbs. For example, instead of discussing next year’s trade shows, make the agenda item measurable and specific such as: “choose three trade shows.” Do you want participants to read additional material before the meeting? Tell them so they will have a chance to prepare, thereby reducing wasted time during the meeting. If the meeting is short, skip the attachment and include the agenda in the email. Even if the documents are not thoroughly read, meeting attendees will probably scan the agenda while the email is open whereas they are less likely to click on an attachment.

Start the meeting on time. When a meeting starts late it is usually because attendees – often decision makers — are not on time. Now everyone’s schedule is thrown off.

Use the agenda as a roadmap to stay on track. Do not ignore it. Refer to it throughout the meeting, especially if someone brings up an item that is not on the agenda. When a meeting attendee goes off-topic, the person running the meeting needs to take charge of the situation immediately. Tip: Schedule the most important items first when meeting attendees tend to pay closer attention.

Allocate a specific amount of time to each agenda item. This will help keep the meeting moving and will prevent subjects from dragging on longer than they should. Does this mean you can never discuss something that is not on the agenda? No, but it is an opportunity to stop the discussion and refer to the purpose of the meeting. Ask if the topic should be discussed now or perhaps should be tabled for another time. With an agenda, it will be obvious where to pick up if the meeting does become side-tracked.

Before moving on to the next agenda item, make sure that the topic has been sufficiently covered. Ask if there are additional comments before closing out the subject. Attendees will feel that their thoughts are appreciated.

End the meeting on time. If not, meeting attendees will be very unhappy — now they have to scramble to recover lost time and get back on track to accomplish the tasks they set out to do that day. Nor does the company fare well. Just imagine the cost of bringing together several executives for an hour’s time!

Your meetings will be successful and productive (and attendees will be most appreciative) if you follow these suggestions: 1) invite key executives who will make decisions; 2) create a clear agenda with times allocated to each topic; 3) start the meeting on time; 4) stick to the topics and 5) end the meeting when you say you will.


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