The business world is full of long, boring, rambling meetings. If your meeting is focused and to the point, everyone who attends will appreciate it. Whether it's a weekly staff meeting or an industry conference, planning and preparation can make the difference between a productive session or a tedious couple of hours.
Have a Goal
The meeting will move faster and be more focused if you have a reason to hold it. Even if it's a regular weekly meeting, it will be more productive if you have a specific goal. Draw up an agenda touching on the topics you want to cover. Stick to the agenda: If someone brings up an unrelated topic, tell them to talk about it with you after the meeting is over.
Don't invite people who don't need to be there. If all you need from someone is an update on her latest project, you can get that in an email. Keeping the meeting to a reasonable size keeps things more orderly and focused. It also frees up more people to do productive work.
Prep Your Attendees
Send out your agenda before the meeting, so everyone knows what to expect. If you call the meeting to deal with a recent development -- a change in the law, a project delay -- include the background information with the agenda. That way everyone will be up to speed and you have more time in the meeting to address the development.
Find the Right Space
Find a room that's large enough that everyone who attends can seat themselves comfortably. Squeezing people in or hunting for chairs is distracting, uncomfortable and makes you look unprepared. Confirm the room has any equipment you need and that it's in working order. This is particularly important if the meeting includes a slide show presentation or if someone's going to attend by phone or videoconference.
Steer the Meeting
Agendas aren't magic. Lots of meetings start with a goal, then the participants veer off onto tangents. If you're hosting, it's up to you to steer the ship back on course. If your guests include customers or upper management, you'll have to do this with a delicate touch, but it needs doing. End the meeting at the scheduled time.
Help People Relax
You don't want to run such a tight meeting everyone feels like they're in boot camp. Arrange for a supply of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. Allow some time at the beginning for small talk, as people naturally enjoy catching up with each other. Just don't let it run on to the point it delays the business at hand.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.