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Tips for keeping a meeting on course

In many companies, even the mention of a meeting is sure to bring groans and rolled eyes. All too often, meetings turn into a waste of time, with participants going off n tangents, the meeting going too long, and nothing of real value being done the entire time.

One of the most frustrating aspects of meetings are the tendency they have to run off course. It's easy for people in the meeting to go off on tangents and talk about things that aren't relevant to the meeting itself. This is unproductive and frustrating for all involved.

The following are some tips for keeping your meetings on course:
1. Make an agenda. First and foremost, you should always have an agenda at your meeting. This is the easiest and most effective way keep everyone on track by showing them exactly what needs to be discussed and in what order. Print off the agenda and make copies for everyone to have during the meeting. An agenda is a great way to steer people back on topic as well. For example, if someone in the meeting starts to veer from the topic at hand, you can simply say, "That's a great point, but could you hold that thought? We're going to discuss just that in a second; it's item 4 on the agenda."
2. Set a time limit. Make sure everyone knows how long the meeting is supposed to last. You can keep everyone on course this way. If someone starts to bring up a topic that has nothing to do with what you want to discuss, you can say something like, "We don't have time to go into detail about that today, but let's save that for another meeting." You may also want to set a time limit on each item on the agenda, with more time allotted for more important points. Everyone will appreciate your respect of their time.
3. Have a leader. Never meet without having someone who is designated to run the meeting. This person should keep track of time and steer anyone on course in the event the participants start to get off on a tangent.
4. Start and end on time. It's important that your meeting begin and end on time, or else you won't be able to cover everything. Let the participants know exactly when you'll be starting, and stick to that. If people arrive late and want you to go over something that's already been discussed, tell them to talk to you after the meeting is over. Once everyone sees that you're a stickler about starting and ending on time, they'll be more apt to arrive on time themselves.
5. Be flexible. While you should stick to your agenda, for the most part, some points come up that you may not be aware of and that should be addressed. If this happens, ask, "I don't think this was on the agenda, and I wasn't aware it was a problem. Should we discuss this further?" If everyone agrees the issue is of importance and should be addressed, continue to talk about it or schedule another meeting, if necessary, to deal solely with that.

By keeping your meetings on course and relevant to the topics at hand, not only are they more productive, but you're showing your employees that you respect their time.

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