Manager’s meeting: 9 a.m. sharp

Manager’s meeting: 9 a.m. sharp – advice for making meetings more productive

Elizabeth Janice

If you’re like most busy people, you have a love/hate relationship with meetings. The more time you spend in them, the less you actually accomplish.

It’s a vicious cycle, according to James Sutton, director of minority/women supplier and dealer programs for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y. “At many meetings, nothing happens. Then two to three weeks later, you find yourself back in the boardroom rehashing the same old problems.”

But you don’t have to waste your time sitting around the conference table. It’s possible to hold productive, even dynamic meetings. And they don’t have to go on forever.

Before rounding up your colleagues, ask yourself, “Is a meeting really necessary?” In truth, lots of meetings are held just for appearance’s sake. If you’re not ready to take group action, a memo or a phone call will probably suffice.

If you do decide to meet, make sure you invite the right people. At many companies, “guest lists” are drawn up for political, rather than practical, reasons. In general, it’s best to limit your audience. Ask key decision-makers to attend, but don’t overlook members of your support staff.

Let everyone know why you’re gathering. “People often show up with absolutely no idea why they are there,” says Virginia Johnson, co-author of Mastering Meetings: Discovering the Hidden Potential of Effective Business Meetings (McGraw-Hill, $12.95 paperback). “A clearly stated objective is the No. 1 way to improve the quality of your meetings,” she adds.

A written agenda is essential and will help you to refine your objectives and move things along, says Sutton. Don’t worry about the formalities; jot down the main topics you plan to cover (three to six is a good rule of thumb), and circulate the list a few days in advance.

Set starting and ending times for the meeting–and stick to them. To get people’s attention, you might schedule a 20-minute meeting for 11:40, suggests Johnson. Always start and finish when you promised. “If you end even two minutes late, people will be looking at their watches,” she says. “But if you end two minutes early, you’re a hero.”

To stimulate discussion, ask open-ended questions, not simple “yes” or “no” ones. If one person tries to monopolize the conversation, step in immediately. But never, ever, criticize someone in front of their co-workers.

On the other hand, if you’re faced with a silent audience, “you’re not communicating well,” says Hubert Humphrey, a vice president at First Union National Bank of North Carolina in Charlotte. “It’s your job to ask for input,” he explains. You don’t want the meeting to turn into a war, but don’t shy away from conflict either. Some of the best ideas are generated by debate.

Keep a positive attitude throughout. Your question shouldn’t be “can” you do something, but “how” you can do it. This will help everyone stretch their thinking.

Once all of the items have been covered, it’s time to close–whether or not the scheduled time has run out. Sum up what has been accomplished and what’s left to do. If a follow-up meeting is necessary, set a time and date.

A meeting is a chance to showcase your talents. “Your credibility is on the line,” says Humphrey. After all, the skills you need in the conference room are the same as those required in the executive suite: the ability to work with others, and to sell yourself and your ideas. Think of every meeting as an audition before your peers.

COPYRIGHT 1995 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group