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Meeting Management - Making the Most of Your Time Together

By Jodi R.R. Smith

There are few things as frustrating as a poorly run meeting. Especially when all you can think about is the "real" work you could be getting done if you were not stuck in the conference room. Here are some basic guidelines to help you manage your meeting time.

I have just returned from a disastrous two-hour meeting. You know the kind. The participants were all smart, well-intentioned individuals. We had a common goal, but we could not stay focused. There were side conversations, rehashing of old issues, and elongated debates on minor topics. Is this sounding familiar? There are few things as frustrating as a poorly run meeting. Especially when all you can think about is the "real" work you could be getting done if you were not stuck in the conference room. Here are some basic guidelines to help you manage your meeting time.


Every meeting should have an agenda with the items submitted in advance. Having an agenda and sticking to it is a fast way to make sure your meetings are effective. Many groups use the PAL system. P is the purpose, or goal, of the meeting. A is the agenda for the meeting. L is the time limit for the meeting. Meeting participants always appreciate a PAL because it allows them to know what to expect for the meeting.


Know when the meeting starts, when the meeting ends, and where the meeting will be held. This information allows you to manage your time. If you are running the meeting you should be sending a reminder and the agenda to the participants at least a day before the meeting. Arrive 10 minutes prior to the start of the meeting to insure the room is ready and situated for you.


Knowing why you are at the meeting and what the outcome of the meeting should be is critical for a successful meeting. Review the meeting PAL (Purpose Agenda and Limit) when you begin the meeting so that everyone in the meeting knows the meeting's goal and you can focus on the business at hand.


Every meeting needs an individual who runs the meeting by following the agenda. The facilitator does not have to be the manager, president or board chair. The facilitator is the individual authorized by the group to keep the meeting moving along. The facilitator can be a fixed role, or rotate among the meeting participants.

Time Keeper

As with a facilitator, every meeting needs an individual who insures the meeting is running smoothly and who acts as the "sergeant at arms" should participants become distracting or unruly. As part of the timekeeper's role, this individual can suggest to the facilitator when a discussion item has exceeded the time allowed and should be sent to a committee. The committee is then responsible for developing a proposal to bring to the next meeting.

There are three basic types of meetings, each with its own guidelines:

1. Problem Solving/Task Meetings

??? * Always use a PAL ? Purpose Agenda Limit
??? * Relate the importance of the goal to the business
??? * Set a time limit and assign a timekeeper
??? * Clarify details and facts
??? * Develop ideas
??? * Agree on an action plan
??? * Assign action items
??? * Review discussion
??? * Set follow-up meeting

2. Communication/Staff Meetings

??? * Always use a PAL ? Purpose Agenda Limit
??? * Agenda items should be submitted prior to the meeting
??? * Each member should report on his/ her major objectives (as submitted in the agenda)
??? * Assign action items and due dates
??? * Keep a historical record of the meeting (i.e. minutes) to be distributed to participants
??? * Periodically assess: the participants and the need/frequency of the meetings

3. Approval Meetings

??? * Always use a PAL ? Purpose Agenda Limit
??? * Be sure to address key questions and concerns in your presentation
??? * Specifically request approval
??? * If not approved, gain consensus around next steps
??? * Summarize main points and action plan
??? * Thank participants for their time

Jodi R.R. Smith is the founder of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm that creates and delivers seminars to clients ranging from children to CEOs. She has been promoting better behaviors since 1986.

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