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Keeping business meetings on track

Ah, the business meeting. The business meeting is one of two things. It's either an incredibly useful meeting of the minds from which new ideas for improving the company flow out like a cleansing stream, or it's a long, numbing waste of time from which nothing flows out except bad morale. It really does seem to be one or the other; has anyone been to a mildly successful business meeting, a mildly pointless business meeting? The point is: you want your business meetings to be as productive as possible. You want your staff to enter the meeting room happy, and leave happier still. Now, this is obviously an ideal; sometimes business meetings are called for the purpose of discussing, say, stolen office supplies, etc., and the air is quite somber; but even so we can look at some general points for keeping business meetings on track.

  1. The first step to keeping business meetings on track is to really know what the meeting is all about before you gather everyone together. If you're at all doubtful about it, people will know. They'll sense your insecurity; they'll be able to tell purposeful talk from mere jabber. So, before you call a business meeting, (a) make sure you're not gathering a bunch of people to accomplish a task you could do by yourself, and (b) that you know precisely what it is you want to accomplish. That said, it's possible to enter a business meeting with a head full of definite ideas and then blow it once you're staring into a bunch of expectant, upturned faces.
  2. The key to not doing that is to write it down. Write "it," your big idea, your concern, your purpose for gathering your staff, in whatever format you prefer, be it a spreadsheet, a printout, or an old-fashioned pad of yellow legal paper. Just make sure you've got back-up in the event that your brain peters out, and, what's just as important, structure. The key to keeping business meetings on track is structure. You want to avoid repeating yourself. Even if you can think of ten ingenious, funny ways of expressing X, choose just one of them and stick to it. Your concern here is not so much that you might bore your staff (though that's a real possibility); your concern here is that you'll introduce a kind of sloppiness into the environment, like juice spilling over the edge of the cup. You want just enough juice to safely fill the cup, and no more.
  3. So, go in with a plan, have it written down, and hit your main points colorfully and strikingly but briefly. It's a good idea to have these points handed out for the benefit of your staff as well.
  4. To keep your business meetings on track, you may want to consider one or two more little possibilities. You may want to offer some little incentive to your employees who must leave their desks and troop into a bleak room for a dreaded business meeting. Treats really do work; they liven up the place, people get some sugar in them, etc. All within reason, of course! The whole philosophy behind the successful business meeting is moderation. Also, remember that it's usually true that two minds are better than one-involve your employees, get their feedback. Ask them how they feel about your proposal. Ask them to describe their worries about your worries. There's got to be the feeling of a meeting in your meeting, of people coming together to work something out as a group, enjoy each other's company, and improve business.

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