Managing meetings is a skill most people don't put on their resume--but should. It's like herding cats (or Kindergartners). It's tough enough to manage an in-person meeting, and conference calls are particularly susceptible to human error or rudeness. If you're in charge of handling a meeting, you need tact, a strong presence, tech savviness and the ability to exert control in sometimes very heated situations.
Meetings are often (incorrectly) thought of as a way to pass time. Some employees are happy for the excuse to get paid to zone out, while others attempt to multi-task the whole time, which we know isn't always a good idea. A good meeting should only bring on board the people who will contribute to it or really benefit from it. This is also part of a meeting manager's job: To make sure the fat is trimmed from meetings. However, if you're new to this task, you might be wondering where to start and what red flags might pop up.
Here are a few signs a meeting is getting out of control and what to do about it:
1. Everyone's interrupting.
Without visual cues (like during a phone conference) sometimes interruptions happen. However, when it's happening constantly and people are trying to talk over one another, the manager needs to step in. Establish rules about who's allowed to talk and when, such as rotating in a “circle” so nobody's voice gets lost. Plus, it's a lot easier to let yourself be rude when there's the anonymity of a screen or phone in the way.
2. There's no agenda.
The most productive meetings I have been a part of included an agenda of some kind. Someone needs to be in charge of creating the agenda and sending it to all attendees before a meeting. If you’re that person, simply sit with your thoughts for a few minutes and list the main items that you know need discussing.
If you have no agenda, the odds of chaos during the meeting increase dramatically. It's the biggest sign that a meeting may not go well. No matter how certain a manager is that “everything they need is in their head,” something will be forgotten and attendees have no point of reference.
3. It's dragged on forever.
There should always be a time cap for a meeting. Attendees may have other obligations, and getting stuck on an endless conference call isn't doing any good. There's a saying that after 20 minutes of a “fight” in a romantic relationship, nobody is saying anything new. That window of time might be bigger with a meeting, but the sentiment is the same.
4. Nobody's talking.
“Out of control” doesn't always mean chair flinging and screaming. The silent treatment can be just as deadly, especially when it's clearly being used as a power play. If attendees refuse to talk as a way to protest, they're also probably refusing to listen. This can make a meeting go over it’s allotted time and nothing gets resolved.
5. The technology isn't working.
There can always be hiccups, and it's up to the manager to test the technology and make sure they know how to work it well before the meeting. Problems could arise with conference call technology or audio visual components for instance. This is especially true if the tech is new to the company. Even the highest quality solutions are pretty useless when they're untested and nobody knows how to make them work.
6. There are a lot of questions.
Questions are encouraged and to be expected. Many managers like to save them for the end of the meeting. However, an abundance of questions throughout the meeting could mean that it wasn't effective and people aren't clear on next steps. It may be better to have questions emailed to the manager, then answered via email one by one. Otherwise, the entire meeting may have been a waste.
Managing a meeting is a skill that can take an entire career to perfect. However, every time you plan an agenda or run a meeting, you will get better at it. Make sure you have the technology necessary to help you do your job, know how to use it, and don't bring more people into a meeting than necessary. The equation for a great meeting is keeping things efficient, as well as “short but sweet” when possible.