Dear Dr. Mimi: Whenever I am responsible for conducting a meeting at work, I always lose control of the room. I try to give everyone the opportunity to voice their opinion, and pretty soon the discussion goes off in a different direction. We always run out of time and never cover the topics the meeting was set up to discuss. —Helpless
Dear Helpless: Before each meeting, create a timed agenda, send it out to all attendees and make the goals clear. Get an agreement on the purpose of each part of the meeting. Set ground rules and advise that topics not on the agenda will be parked and discussed at another time. You can also make it a stand-up meeting and arrange for it to take place at the time of day when others want to go home to ensure that the meeting does not stray off course. Start the meeting on time. Set discussion and adjournment times. If someone tries to derail the meeting, tactfully ask him or her how what they are talking about relates to the subject in question. Set the tone and make careful transitions. Don’t move to a new subject without summarizing the prior one. If someone isn’t ready to move on, find out the reason as this will reduce the chance that they will reintroduce the same topic later. End the meeting with a final summarization of all that was decided and accomplished.
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