Mistakes to Avoid When Meeting
1. Getting Off Topic
The obvious solution to the problem of getting off the topic is for the group leader or facilitator to aggressively ensure that group discussions stay focused on the items listed on the meeting agenda. This is not to say that the off-topic ideas don't have much merit – they may be tremendously important to the organization. However, if they merit discussion, they should be recorded, and future meetings should be scheduled to address them.

2. No Goals, No Agenda
If the reasons for having the meeting are not crystal-clear, and if the goals are not elucidated in advance, then seriously consider refusing to participate in the meeting, or at least help your co-worker define his agenda so that he is satisfied with the need for meeting.

3. Meeting Too Long
If you start a meeting late, that doesn't mean you shouldn't still end the meeting on time. It's unlikely that the work schedules of your fellow group members revolve around your meeting. Don't forget that they probably have other business to attend and keeping them late will only make them anxious and distract your meeting team from the task at hand.

4. Lack of Preparation
There is no excuse for being unprepared for a business meeting. The big problem with the lack of preparation for meetings is that either lots of time will be wasted as we feel our way around the topics, or the meeting will come to a grinding halt when someone figures out we don't have any idea what we are talking about. Take at least a few minutes before every meeting to prepare. You will make your meetings more efficient and perhaps you will save yourself some embarrassment.

5. Ambiguous Results
Do everything in your power to guard against ambiguous results and outcomes. Such results only lead to confusion and uncertainty among most of the group members and, inevitably, to a need to address the issue again and again until it finally goes away. Take positive steps, such as issuing agendas in advance with individuals responsible for each agenda item or by personally contacting less informed group members. If participants are fearful of making comments or decisions that may be in conflict with the prevailing conventional wisdom, get to the root of that fear, and take steps to identify and defuse it.

6. Key Players Missing in Action
If it is unlikely that the meeting will be successful if one or more key players are absent, then you should postpone it. It is far better to try again later than to risk wasting the time spent by all the other meeting participants grappling for a solution that can't be found without the input of key participants. To help maximize attendance of all desired meeting participants, send out reminders before you meet, or personally call each of the participants to confirm his attendance.

7. Dictatorship of the Few
One way to take charge of the situation is to thank an overzealous participant for his input and ask him to allow the other participants to have a chance to express their views. At the same time, you have to solicit the participation of the other members. Otherwise, there will be a vacuum in the discussion that the dominant participants will quickly move to fill.

If the dominant group members refuse to back off and allow others to participate, you will have to be more persistent and forceful in your efforts. If, after repeated efforts to tone down a meeting dominator, you still can't control his input, then take the offender aside and explain that you will not tolerate his behavior and that continued abuse of the other meeting participants'; talk time will result in his ejection from the meeting. Don't be afraid to request a meeting dominator to step out of a meeting if necessary. While you may feel uncomfortable doing so, the comfort and the contributions of all the other meeting participants will be greatly increased by ridding the meeting of the few troublemakers who would rather dominate than participate.

Book Review
Anyone who has faced an unproductive meeting will find value in this quick and useful guide to better meetings. With checklists, forms and examples to help readers prepare for and lead meetings, this hands-on book offers tips on such topics as avoiding common meeting mistakes, promoting opportunities for input, making effective decisions and clearly identifying action items. Designed to be a handy reference, this guide will give you practical ideas and insights that you can immediately put to use in your meeting room.

About the Authors
Robert B. Nelson is an established business author and vice president of product development for Blanchard Training and Development, Inc., a leading human resources development company located in San Diego, California. He is the author of several books including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (1994), Empowering Employees through Delegation (1993), Decision Point (1992) and We Have to Start Meeting Like This (1989).

Peter Economy is administrative services manager for the San Diego Housing Commission. Previously, he worked as vice president of Government Services, for the I.T.S. Corporation of San Diego and as a contract negotiator for the Department of Defense. Peter Economy is a Certified Professional Contract Manager in the National Contracts Management Association.

From Better Business Meetings by Robert B. Nelson and Peter Economy 1995 by RICHARD D. IRWIN, INC. Reprinted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

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