In last month's Public Sector Manager we
suggested nine ways to make meetings work.
From your responses, this topic of meeting
management is one that is important to you,
so we have decided to expand upon it this
month. We have organized the ideas on
surviving meetings in a question and answer
At our meetings,
attendees often arrive late. How should
we handle the situation? Should we start
on time, or wait?
The general rule is that you start on
time, unless the key person or
decision-maker is not present. If this
is the case, you have little choice but
Keep in mind that starting a meeting
late reinforces late behavior in
attendees and will spread to people who
are usually punctual.
Should the chair or
meeting leader remark on tardiness, or
otherwise highlight that a person is
No, not usually. There is a tendency for
a chairperson to make a remark,
sometimes sarcastic, when a person is
late. In most situations, nothing is
gained by attempting to embarrass a
person in public. However, if there is a
consistent problem, a private
conversation may be in order to
determine the causes of chronic
lateness, and to problem-solve.
Do you have any tips
on encouraging people to be on time?
Apart from starting on time, there is
one thing you might try. Apparently,
research suggests that setting a meeting
time that is NOT on the hour or half
hour is more likely to result in people
arriving on time. For example, consider
starting your meeting at 2:10 rather
I have to go to many
meetings that I see as unnecessary.
Unfortunately, my boss feels that I must
be present, and since I haven't fallen
off a turnip truck, I know that it is
better to attend. What can I do?
Obviously, your first path is to attempt
to persuade the director or ADM that it
is more cost-effective for you to be
absent. Try finding out why you are
being asked to attend, and work from
If you have to go, here's something to
consider. You can look at these meetings
as onerous, ugly obligations, or, you
can look at them as an opportunity for
you to accomplish something. Remember
that any gathering of people may allow
you to get across a message that you
would be unable to transmit in other
Even if the meeting topic is not
relevant to you, it is possible to
"sneak in" your points.
When faced with a must-attend meeting
that you feel is a waste of your time,
prepare by looking for opportunities to
accomplish something important to you or
I often have to
deliver short presentations (with a lot
of information) to executives. I usually
use a lot of visual aids, such as charts
and graphs. But after fifteen minutes
everyone looks like they are drowsing
off. Got any tips?
Fifteen minutes of charts and graphs is
bound to make most people snooze. If you
are going to use these things, remember
that they are not the show, you are. Use
them to make points clearer and to
simplify things...not to confuse people.
Also consider whether you are including
too much. Include only the material that
is absolutely necessary, and make
supplementary material available after
By the way, you aren't READING your
presentation are you?
Even when I have to
do short presentations at meetings, I
get nervous, so I write out what I am
going to say so I won't forget. When I
read my report, everyone's eyes glaze
over almost immediately, this makes me
more nervous. Help?
Reading anything more than a sentence or
two is deadly. You should only need
brief notes. Learning to present at
meetings is not difficult to learn, but
you may need some help.
We hold regular staff
meetings, but often we spend a great
deal of time on nothing at all. How do
you feel about regularly scheduled
Meetings that occur every week, or on
some other regular basis, can be useful
provided that there is a clear,
important and continuing purpose for the
meetings. If there is a clear
understanding of meeting objectives, and
attendees have bought into these goals,
regular meetings can be useful.
However, this is often not the case.
Staff meetings, for example, tend to
occur simply because they are scheduled,
and people scramble to find something to
talk about. If you are going to have
regularly scheduled meetings, make sure
that they are really necessary. Examine
the agenda before the regular meeting,
and ask: "Are each of these items
necessary? Must they be handled in a
We wonder whether our
meetings should be formal, following
some established rules of order, or
whether they should be free- form, with
few rules. What do you think?
The degree of formality in your meetings
depends on your purpose, and the size
and context of the meeting. In
situations where large numbers of people
may attend, and where these attendees
only meet on one or two occasions, rules
of order may be very helpful in
maintaining order and saving time (but
they don't seem to help in parliament).
In most cases where meetings are small,
and those attending will continue to
attend and get to know each other, less
formality is appropriate. That doesn't
mean there are no rules. Attendees must
agree on some set of rules to keep
order, but they can be simple.
Somehow I got roped
into doing the agenda for our regular
meetings. What do I need to include?
The basic information should include:
. Meeting objective
. Time meeting will begin and end
. Participants involved
. What is expected of them in terms of
Do it all on one page. Supplementary
material can be appended.
Consider designating agenda items as
"for discussion" or "decision required".
Put the "for decision" items first on
the agenda, unless there is an urgent
reason to do otherwise.
I chair meetings
where there are a lot of
digressions...sometimes people end up
totally off track for as much as 20
minutes. What can I do?
Remember that most people don't enjoy
wasting time, but get caught up in the
moment. They want to get on with it, and
will be willing to help save time and
First, if you will be chairing the
meetings, indicate that you want the
right to act to save time by intervening
in off-track conversations. Get the
agreement of members, and then jump in
consistently and often, but politely.
Second, consider making the entire group
responsible for saving time. Suggest
that whenever someone goes off topic or
off track, that attendees raise a hand
in the air with finger extended (no, not
THAT finger). When this occurs, stop the
speaker, and bring the meeting back on
track. It may seem strange, and a bit
scary, but that will probably work.
No matter what we do,
our meetings go on and on and on. It's
driving all of us crazy, but nothing
seems to work. What can we do?
Usually, a persistent problem has many
things attached to it. Try to figure out
why this is occurring. A few things you
might try include:
- Agree that a speaker may speak on any
given topic or item a maximum of two
times. Chairperson's judgment as to what
constitutes a single topic or question
- Hold your meeting in a room with no
chairs. Everyone stands, with obvious
exceptions for those with disabilities.
- Limit the length that a person may
hold the floor. Choose a limit that
makes sense....two minutes, four
minutes, ten minutes, and enforce it
with a loud timer.
Because of the nature
of our branch, the only time we have for
meetings is over lunch. We usually
either brown-bag it or bring in
sandwiches, although these cutbacks are
reducing that. Anyway, what happens is
that we never seem to get much done at
these luncheon meetings. What
suggestions can you give us?
Food and drink, and productivity don't
go together. Food and drink signify to
most people that the atmosphere is
informal and sociable, rather than
business-like and focused. If you have
meetings at lunch time, consider asking
that the luncheon process occur during
the first fifteen minutes, or last
fifteen minutes. Use that time to
socialize. Use the remaining time in a
By the way, breakfast meetings tend to
be more productive. People are fresh,
and know they have much to do during the
rest of the day, so they tend to get
down to business more quickly.
In the meetings I
attend, there is one fellow who
constantly interrupts me. I think there
is a personality conflict. What can I do
to stop this rude behavior?
If you think that the person has an axe
to grind with you, deal with it
privately, but be constructive. If you
aren't interested in improving the
relationship but want to stop the
interruptions there are a few things you
First, when someone interrupts and
starts to talk, respond with "Please let
me finish" in a firm, non-hostile way.
If the person increases their volume,
increase yours, and repeat your line. If
the interchange continues to get louder,
and then stop talking so the other
person is, in essence, bellowing in a
silent room. This is sufficiently
embarrassing that the person will
realize he is looking very silly. This
is a strong, somewhat aggressive tactic,
but consistent interrupting requires
Obviously, other attendees, and the
chair should be helping with this
situation. If they aren't requesting
that you review the meeting "rules"
We have a good bunch
of people at our staff meetings, but
there is a tendency for some people to
sit back, and offer criticism rather
than suggestions. It's really tedious,
and I would like to know how this can be
Some people have a style that is more
critical, although they may not mean it
as unconstructive. One good way of
dealing with people who criticize
constantly is to suggest that since they
obviously have some strong concerns
about the issue, that they develop a set
of alternative ideas for the next
meeting. This works best when the boss
or chairperson suggests this.
Note that we don't want to suppress all
criticism, but we want to move people to
suggesting alternatives if they have
critical comments. This tactic works
best with constant attackers, rather
than occasional ones who criticize
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