On average, employees attend 253 meetings a year in formal conference rooms and spend 3.3 hours of your workdays in meetings, and of those daily meetings, people feel that 36% of the ones they attend are unproductive. Is it because people have been derailing your meetings.

You know the meeting personality types killing your meeting room productivity: the rambler who always goes off topic, the conversation dominator who always has a point to make and many more. It’s no surprise these derailers are a big reason your meetings tend to go on and on and on—but they’re not the only reason. When meeting times aren’t set and followed, agendas aren’t sent out, people aren’t on the same page, the right meeting management tools aren’t used and the necessary people aren’t in attendance, it’s easy for meetings to quickly derail. 

Follow our 5 ideas to improve your meetings and keep everyone focused and on the right track throughout the entire meeting. 

1. Establish and enforce meeting norms.

Before you can hold a productive meeting, you need to lay out a few ground rules—things like starting and ending meetings on time, being on time to all meetings, being concise when you speak and creating a time for handling questions and feedback, etc. Using a real-time messaging tool like Slack lets attendees, whether in-person or virtual, ask questions right when they come. This way they don’t forget their questions, but the presenter can wait to answer them at the proper time preventing frequent verbal interruptions. Oftentimes a question someone has is answered in one of the ensuing slides, so waiting rather than asking a question in the middle of the presentation allows attendees to still get their questions answered without the unneeded interruption.

Create these norms as a company so everyone follows the same rules, ensuring when your marketing and sales departments have a meeting one group doesn’t have different ideas of how to run the meeting. Put these norms in writing, maybe a shared Google Doc where everyone has access or even posted inside your conference rooms, so new employees can review it when they start and others can quickly glance over it when needed.

And these rules can’t just fall on the meeting scheduler’s shoulders to enforce. Everyone needs to be in agreement and help enforce them, and when they’ve helped create them that shouldn’t be a problem. 

2. Make the purpose clear beforehand.

You can steer clear of derailment if every attendee knows the purpose of the meeting and what will and won’t be discussed. Send an agenda and any other helpful materials beforehand—and we’re not talking 10 minutes before the meeting. Also, when you list items on your meeting agenda, list them as questions to more clearly communicate the outcomes you want from each item, i.e. write “When will the marketing eBook be completed?” rather than “Discuss the eBook schedule.” You can even take it a step further and next to each discussion item specify which attendee(s) will be sharing information, making a decision, etc.

Keep the meeting agenda and objectives visible throughout the meeting. You can use a screen sharing meeting platform, like Join.meAdobe Connect Meetings or Google Docs, so you know all in-person and remote workers are following along with the meeting and can see the agenda (which you’ve made visible on your screen).

3. Get everyone in agreement in advance.

You may send out a detailed meeting agenda, but everyone could have their own interpretation of what is “on track” in regards to the meeting purpose or topics. And then someone may bring up a point they feel is on track but to someone else, it’s totally off track.

The meeting scheduler needs to say at the beginning of the meeting what their understanding of the meeting is and then ask attendees if they agree or if they had a different understanding. Employees can also send an email or chat message to the scheduler to give feedback, ask questions and get clarifications after they’ve sent out the agenda. Or if you use Slack, use Slack Polls, which lets you create a poll inside Slack so you can quickly get more specific opinions and feedback from attendees that you’re looking for.

So again, we can’t stress enough the importance of sending your agenda out in advance so employees have sufficient time to review, think about and respond with any questions or concerns before the meeting starts.

4. Make sure everyone is ready to move on to the next topic.

If you want to help keep everyone on track, then you have to ensure everyone is ready to move down the track. Rather than just saying, “OK, moving on” or the meeting leader speaking their piece and jumping right to the next topic say, “I think we’ve discussed what needed to be discussed with this topic. But does anyone have anything else to add or concerns with this topic before we move on?”

Finding out that not everyone is ready to move on before moving on is going to save you time and keep your meeting on track. Otherwise, these people will bring up their unresolved issues and topics you thought were done during another topic, meaning you’ll spend more time than needed to get that topic finalized (again) and then regroup back to what you were discussing before. 

5. Keenly manage derailers.

Ramblers, conversation hogs, and the tangent-prone—you’re likely to have one or all in a meeting. While you still want them to participate, if someone is talking too much, others won’t want to participate or may want to but have assumed they won’t be able to get a word in even if they tried.

You have to actively manage meeting disrupters by: 

  • Nicely cutting Randy the rambler off.
  • Talking to those who are long-winded beforehand or during the meeting’s break.
  • Getting derailers to refocus back on the set agenda.
  • Addressing underlying issues so dissenters are satisfied and you can get your meeting back on track.
  • Remind attendees at the start to follow the company’s meeting norms.

You don’t want anyone to feel like they’re wasting time in your meetings. And when you follow our 5 meeting management tips, you won’t. Instead of bumpily derailing off the track, you’ll have more productive and smoothly run meetings.