Project managers have to navigate so many tangents and side conversations that they should basically be equipped with “Detour Ahead!” road signs at each meeting.
It’s not that people purposely try to derail meetings (at least, we hope…) but when you bring a group of collaborators together, many naturally want to be sure their voices are heard. So when everyone starts to chime in with their own concerns, stories, and suggestions, your meeting can quickly be thrown off track.
That’s why it’s so important to have a plan for staying on topic — Step 5 of our comprehensive guide on How to Plan a Meeting People Actually Want to Attend.
Use these tips to keep your meeting running smoothly and make the most of everyone’s time:
- Use a distraction-free meeting setup. If you can arrange to meet in person and not on Zoom, try using a room with minimal distractions and outside noise. Also, if possible, encourage participants to take notes with pen and paper and avoid bringing extraneous devices.
- Assign tasks to certain attendees. Let everyone know which talking points and conversations they’re responsible for leading or joining. You can do this by drafting and distributing a meeting agenda ahead of time. This can also help ensure that you’re only inviting the necessary players to each conversation.
- Guide tangents with helpful questions. When tangents do inevitably emerge, steer people back to the matter at hand with follow-up questions like “How can we apply this insight to the current issue?” or “What do we hope to achieve with this new idea?”
Meetings consultant Kristin Arnold suggests appointing a facilitator to help meetings stay on topic: “The facilitator’s primary job is to keep the team on track. Rather than focusing on content, the facilitator is guiding the process to ensure the team achieves its desired results. And when the team does go off the rails, the facilitator quickly intervenes to get the team back on track.”
Proggio CEO Yaniv Shor also recommends using a tool called the “parking lot” to keep meetings on track: “Encourage people to have side conversations about specific interdependencies or questions they need answered outside the larger project status meeting. This is sometimes referred to as putting issues ‘in the parking lot,’ but the project manager needs to take note of these items and follow up to make sure those issues are discussed or resolved.”
To recap, here’s our actionable tip for Step 5: Do some work ahead of time to make sure you’re prepared for tangents, asides, and unexpected issues. Make it clear what each participant’s roles and responsibilities are going into the meeting. Stick to start and end times. And plan to get the conversation back on track with the right questions and talking points.
Ready to streamline your next project management meeting? Book a demo with Proggio.
Need to catch up with the rest of our guide? Check out the first steps here:
- Decide if you really need the meeting.
- Plot your talking points and goals.
- Invite the right people to attend.
- Prepare your data and real-time reports.
Look out for steps 6-10 soon!