EEEK! It’s once again time to plan your weekly sales meeting – but how long should the meeting last? How can you get through all the necessary points without monopolizing your co-workers’ time? A good leader knows that his team members don’t appreciate having their time taken up needlessly. To waste their time repeatedly is to lose their respect!

When thinking about calling a meeting, you must first (a) determine what needs to be covered and (b) figure out how best to cover those items. Too often these decisions are ignored or mishandled, but if you take them to heart and abide by the following tips, your meeting can be a success.

Get the Word Out
Invite participants to the meeting and ask for feedback on what they want covered. Follow the "Rule of Halves." Ask for all agenda items no later than half the time between the last meeting and the upcoming meeting. For example, if meetings are held weekly on Fridays, agenda items should be gathered by Wednesday. Then you can start to put together an agenda that will fulfill the objectives of all attendees.

Look to the Past for the Future
Allot time limits for discussion on agenda topics. Think back to previous meetings and recall how long it took to go through similar agenda items. Create a more realistic time budget by following the "Rule of Sixths." For approximately two-thirds of the meeting, you should focus on current agenda items. Subdivide the remaining third in half. One of these chunks of meeting time can be spent on past agenda items and follow-up. The remaining sixth of the meeting can be spent on future agenda items (i.e. planning or preparation). Schedule agenda items in order of ascending controversiality. Warm up with easy issues that will take little time to resolve before you move on to the tougher time monopolizers.

Everything Has Its Time
At the beginning of the meeting, review the agenda and the tasks to be accomplished. This helps meeting participants know precisely what is expected and encourages them to focus on the task at hand. It also makes controlling time in the meeting much easier. During a meeting, consider using a clock to time each discussion topic. Try setting the alarm to warn meeters when the time allotted for the topic has expired.

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Down with Information Overload
Keep it to the point! Schedule only as many presentations, documents or new business items that you think can be covered. Be realistic. Don’t think that you can create a new budget and a set of company bylaws in a one-hour session. For any new business you’ll be discussing, attach an executive summary clarifying key points, conclusions, and alternatives to be discussed and decided upon. You won’t have time within the meeting to shuffle through many pages to find information.

You, You and You...but Not You
Invite only those directly involved in the issues being discussed. Meetings can fail because too many or too few participants attend. If a meeting is too large, for example, discussion may be superficial and it may take twice as long to make a decision than you originally thought. If all attendees will be affected by decisions, they’ll be more task-oriented and less distracted by trivial issues.

Schedule Like a Pro
Specialized meeting information management software helps you manage time and information at your meetings. With SMART Meeting Pro, your meeting agenda becomes a powerful tool to keep meetings on track and on time. The application helps you collect, organize and archive critical meeting information. Agenda items appear at the top of each page on your computer, and the time elapsed for each topic discussion is automatically tracked by a timer.

Your bottom line is to get done what you need to get done. You can do this within a budgeted amount of time. Once you’re in the meeting, watch the time and the conversation. Discuss only what needs to be discussed, and you’ll be saving you and your co-workers valuable time. If you can successfully do all of this, you’re well on your way to being a meeting scheduling guru!

1. Meeting in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity.  A network MCI Conferencing White Paper, 1998.

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