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Hold On To Your Agenda!
Steve Clements & Claudia Coplon

Ever walked away from a critical meeting without gaining agreement or support for a key initiative? Whatever the reason—

      …The scheduled one-hour meeting took two hours of valuable time requiring
some participants to leave before decisions could be finalized,

… Someone used the meeting to air dissent, personal gain, antagonism,
or even political rivalry,

… Participants introduced other agenda items, settled into tangent story telling,
or just got bored,

— you were unable to keep the group focused to achieve your goals. Yet, the ability to stay on agenda and thereby invite consensus in a timely manner is a significant measure of your skills as an executive.

Consider these ten tips to holding on to your agenda before your next critical meeting:

  • Go in Ready – Prepare an itemized agenda of topics you would like to cover. Prioritize the list into categories, e.g., “managerial,” “advocacy,” “long-term goals,” etc. Within the categories, rank items from “must be discussed” to “if possible,” and assign ideal time ranges to each category. Distribute a copy of the agenda to participants before the meeting (unless it is disadvantageous to do so).
  • Take Charge – Start the meeting at the time designated. Quickly review the agenda topics and the amount of time allotted for the meeting. Then move to the first point.
  • Command Attention – As you speak, demonstrate your desire to reach out and involve the audience. Lean towards the participants, facing first one section of the room or table and then another so no one is neglected. Use hand gestures to enhance your points. Maximize your arguments, eyeballing each participant until his/her body language confirms you are being listened to, not just heard.
  • Adopt Varying Vocal Tones – Use different but appropriate attitudes and vocal tones for each agenda item. Vary their sense of urgency to separate the points more definitively and make the meeting more interesting.
  • Watch Your Time – Place a watch/clock next to your notes so you can measure issues yet to be discussed vs. time remaining. Keep revising your “if possible” agenda items, based on priorities and the amount of time left. Otherwise, you may be forced to rush through key discussions.
  • Keep on Track – Make sure participants address only the agenda item currently under discussion. Deflect extraneous conversations including other topics, dissention, grandstanding, or chatter with phrases such as “If you will e-mail me about that, I’ll look into it further” or “Because we have a short window, let’s table that discussion until another time.”
  • Curtail Dominators – If someone dominates the current discussion, redirect to others who should be heard. Use phrases like “Let’s hear what (name) has to say,” or “(Name), do you want to comment?” to involve others and change the tone in the room.
  • Maintain Time Limits – Keep discussions to reasonable time limits. When running behind, announce the number of agenda items still to be covered and the reduced amount of time remaining. Ask the speaker to finalize his/her position, e.g., “We need to bring this issue to a close. Would you sum up your point in a couple of sentences?” or “We still have six items left to discuss so we are going to have to table this for now.”
  • Use Humor – Interject humor where appropriate to release tension in the room. This also eases the introduction and discussion of more difficult agenda items.
  • Position and Reposition – Take notes during the meeting, including points made by specific participants. Pay attention not only to what participants are saying, but also to their possible sub-texts and implications. Address each dissenting point at the end of the meeting, repositioning your message appropriately. If necessary, table the final decision until you can further address the concerns/questions expressed.

Bottom line, meeting leadership requires commanding attention, exhibiting strong communication skills, and taking an active role in reaching closure. Be effective – hold on to your agenda!

As appeared in Connections, Georgia Society of Association Executives (GSAE)’s quarterly membership publication.

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