Streamlining Your Meetings

By Lain Ehmann

In no situation is the old adage, time is money, more true than in the realm of sales meetings. A longer meeting means higher charges for room rentals, meals, audiovisual equipment, parking and more – not to mention that every minute spent in a meeting is a minute your sales team isn’t booking orders. So to keep things on the fast track here are six tips to keep your meetings running smoothly and efficiently.

1. Have a clear agenda. It seems like common sense, but participants may have no idea or different ideas about meeting goals, especially of smaller, informal sessions. Because these disagreements lead to wasted time, even if you don’t write up an official agenda make a quick list on the whiteboard of the items to be covered and the ideal outcome of the meeting.

2. Stick to a schedule. Meeting gurus will tell you to have an exact starting and ending time and to allot time to each item on your agenda. Not only does this schedule keep the meeting moving, but it also keeps participants engaged. When they know there’s only five more minutes until the morning break, they’re more likely to keep their minds on topic.

3. Use the parking lot. Not all off-topic discussion threads are aimless ones, but anything that’s outside the scope of your meeting agenda is a distraction. Make note of discussion-worthy ideas in a parking lot, a special section of the whiteboard where you can jot down future meeting items. This technique lets you give creativity its due without taking up valuable meeting minutes.

4. Minimize distractions. Your office isn’t going to be conducive for staying on task if the phone is ringing every five minutes and coworkers are continuously dropping by for a chat. Hold meetings in seclusion; close the door, go to a conference room on a different floor, head for the coffeehouse down the block or make yourself at home in the company cafeteria – before or after the lunch hour, of course.

5. Hit the off button. Forget about checking your voice mail, reading email or responding to text messages while you’re in a meeting. Instruct all participants to leave the electronic gadgetry at the door. They can’t give the meeting their all if they’re waiting for the service department to get back to them or expecting a call from a hot prospect.

6. Pull the chairs out. Researchers at the University of Missouri say that when meeting participants sit instead of stand meetings last a third longer, but the quality of the meeting outcome is identical regardless if you’re resting on your laurels or not. Speed things up by going chairless.