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Editor at Large

How to run a productive -- and fast-moving -- meeting

- Last modified: January 10, 2014 at 3:48 PM

Few things at work are better than the cancellation of a meeting.

It's like found money. You were planning for an hour away from your "regular" work and magically now you have an entire extra hour to get things done.

Of course, it's not that simple – because a meeting is part of your "regular" duties. Meetings are crucial so that everyone is aligned with the company mission, and they are used to introduce ideas and initiatives, train staff, brainstorm and more.

So … if you're going to have a meeting – and we all have meetings – here are some tips for a good one. (Some of these are taken from Andy Wiedlin at imediaconnection.com.)

-- Ahead of the meeting, tell everyone to bring ideas and that you intend to start the meeting on time. Give only a 60-second grace period before beginning. Latecomers will get the message.

-- Designate someone to take notes, particularly to note responsibilities, tasks and deadlines assigned during the meeting.

-- If no one is in charge of the meeting, put someone in charge so he or she can keep things moving. We'll call this person the leader.

-- Have an agenda and distribute or quickly announce that agenda to everyone at the top of the meeting. Announce if you're taking any short breaks and announce when the meeting will end.

-- Then – in one sentence – state the goals of the meeting. Examples: "Today we are going to brainstorm about ideas for a special project." Or: "Today we are going to learn about a new initiative that we are introducing in two weeks, and what you need to prepare for the launch."

-- The leader then starts with the first bullet-point on the agenda – and away you go, point-by-point until you're done.

-- Keep the meeting on-point and moving (the two most crucial things when running a meeting). The leader must be an enforcer. If the discussion goes off-track, he has to reel in everyone, imploring everyone to remain on topic. In other words, don't let anyone hijack the meeting. Also, if the discussion on a particular point goes too long, the leader must cut off the conversation, acknowledging that the issue cannot be resolved today.

-- When you're done with the agenda, summarize quickly and, most importantly, have the note-taker announce the tasks that were assigned, who is doing them and the deadlines for the assignments. Also, if necessary, schedule the next meeting.

-- End early if possible. If not, do not ever go long. If it looks like you're going to go longer than anticipated, halt the discussion five minutes before the end time so that you can review responsibilities and deadlines. And end on time.

-- Other tips: Have enough seats for everyone. ... Make sure there is a working clock in the room. ... Use tact and humor but this is not a nightclub or late-night bull session. Keep everyone on-point. ... Within one business day after the meeting, have the note-taker write up the notes, including tasks, deadlines and who is responsible for the assignments, and email them to all of those who attended the meeting. ... Build in a 10-minute break for any meeting that is at least two hours in length. Tell everyone to be back in five minutes but in fact it will be 10 minutes. ... Remember, you will be a hero if you end the meeting ahead of schedule.

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