Meetings are one thing that you can’t avoid in corporate life. They are strategic channels of communication and are often an integral part to getting things done. But managed haphazardly, these gatherings can be a waste of people’s productive time, a needless interruption for more important tasks, and a mere venue for long-winded discussions. Remember, you need to get a hold of meetings, and not let them get control over you. Here are some things to remember when organizing or attending one:

Prepare an agenda. Items up for discussion should always be defined in terms of desired results. Attendees should inform the organizer what issues they feel they need to discuss. Filter matters that can be resolved outside of the meeting. Things that do get into the list should be given appropriate time and attention during the actual meeting. Anything outside of the agenda should be withheld for another time.

Allot time for preparation. If you’re the one calling for a meeting, allow attendees enough time to prepare their stat reports or other presentational materials they need to pull in for the occasion. Don’t give a five-minute alert, unless you’re only going to make an announcement. If you are going to attend and realize that you are not substantially prepared, inform the organizer of this fact to avoid unnecessary time wastage on your part by attending a meeting in which you have nothing to contribute.

Use technology whenever necessary. Put up an exclusive mailing list for each group you need to discuss things with. Announcements can be spammed to the electronic inbox of every concerned individual, only require these people to acknowledge receipt of your message. Discussing issues over an egroup is more efficient, and will allow you to resolve things in cyberspace, while leaving the more difficult matters for time-consuming meetings.

Put attendance down to a minimum. Hand pick attendees and provide them with a copy of the agenda. If on the other hand, you feel that the agenda has nothing to do with you, inform the organizer. People who are no longer concerned with certain portions of the meeting should be allowed to leave and get on with their tasks.

Choose the best time and place. Meetings are best held around lunch time or near the end of the day when people will be less inclined to belabor issues unnecessarily. When meeting with specific people, have it held in their cubicles or rooms so that you can promptly end it when you’re done. Also, start and end at the agreed hours. Do not tolerate tardiness. Be considerate of other people’s time as well as your own. Penalize offenders so that a standard will be set.

Avoid long, dragging meetings whenever possible. You can only hold a person’s attention span for so long.

Keep out interruptions. Avoid all kinds of phone calls, client calls, even trips to the bathroom once the meeting has commenced. Do not serve noisy snacks or hold a meeting in a lounging venue that will tempt people to be too relaxed and not pay strict attention to what’s going on. Do not furtively do some other work during a meeting. Keep up a business-like atmosphere and stick to the agenda, as light banter might lead to time-wasting asides or discussions.

Close with a call to action. To make sure that your meeting was not for naught, summarize all the points that have been taken up and make sure that every thing is clear on the minutes. Before closing, review and affirm all the agreements. Set-up a time and date for an accountability session/ follow-up, thus ensuring a time frame for what has been discussed. Disseminate the minutes of the meeting to all concerned as soon as possible so that they will have sufficient time to act upon points of conflict.

By Lolita Villa