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Five tips for starting your meetings on time

Meetings that start late are often inefficient and disorganized, and they tend to run over. Here are some ways to get your meetings off to the right start -- and right on time.

We all know that meetings often take a lot more time than they need to. This happens for two reasons: Either they take longer than they were supposed to (or run off the tracks) or they do not start on time. Here are five tips to get your teleconference and Web meetings to start on time, which will help you wrap them up in a timely fashion.

1: Send an iCal invite

Don't just tell people about the meeting; send a proper invitation for it. When you use your mail client to set up a meeting, it uses the standard iCal format. All major email/calendar packages recognize it and can use it to automatically add the meeting to the calendar. This will ensure that your meeting is not forgotten, and you can check the responses to see who has accepted or declined the invitation.

In Outlook (and maybe other clients as well), you can also set the reminder time; I recommend 15 minutes before the start. Recipients who don't set a reminder might not notice the upcoming meeting until it's too late. While you're at it, you may want to send out any supporting files with this email, such as the slide deck. That won't help the meeting start on time, but it can really shorten the meeting. I've found that it is quicker to review material that was already sent out than to drop a bunch of new information in a meeting and then handle the questions.

2: Include the needed information

When you send your meeting invitation, it needs to have the following items to be useful:

  • Phone number and PIN (if needed) for the audio end
  • Instructions for joining the online end of it, including any login information
  • A link to any software that might be needed for the online conferencing

Meeting delays often happen when attendees can't easily find out how to get into the meeting. Make sure that this information is in the invitation itself, not just emails discussing the meeting, so it is available when participants get the reminders from their calendars.

3: Get into the meeting early

Many meeting systems do not allow participants to join the meeting until the host does. By getting into the meeting early, you will make sure that everyone else can get in as well. And if there are any conflicts with reserving the conference line or other resources, it's better to find out five minutes early than the very moment everyone else is calling into the meeting. This will also give you time to get your computer ready for any screen sharing you might want to do. Make sure that your browser has only relevant tabs open. Close out any applications that make "toast" on the screen (like email, IM clients, etc.), which can be distracting and might display sensitive or personal information. The last thing you need is for your coworkers or clients to see a "Hey baby, what's up?" IM from your spouse come up on your screen.

4: Test your tools in advance

Software has a tendency to not work as expected when it is most embarrassing for you to have it fail. If you need any software for your meeting, test it well in advance. Also, any slide decks should get a last-minute review for both proper operation and content. It's been my experience that it's easy to accidentally open the wrong PowerPoint file (which can occasionally cause problems) because you are trying to get the introductions done while digging through your files at the same time.

5: Avoid scheduling problems

Some folks are often late to meetings because they're booked back to back, and earlier meetings are running over. You may also have problems when meetings are scheduled for the very beginning of the workday or immediately after lunch. Not only can people get tied up, but those are prime times for emergencies to come up that require immediate attention. Try to schedule your meetings later in the morning or afternoon so that people will definitely be in the office and not dealing with a "late last night..." kind of problem, and use your calendar system to avoid back-to-back meetings.

Other tips?

Do your meetings always seem to start late? Do you have any particular strategies that help you start meetings on time and keep them on track?

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

12 comments
dbobke
dbobke

It is not "8th grade" to start a meeting on time...walking in late when everyone else is fully engaged should be embarrassing and alter their behavior for next time. Food is also key...when I provide bagels for a morning meeting, everyone is early so they get the bagel they want! Also agree on the agenda - should go out 24 hours in advance.

bwills80
bwills80

Send out an agenda and stick to it. Allocate time to each person speaking and a short Q&A for them. One person is designated chair and keeps the meeting moving. Do not go over the time that each presenter is alloted. If they need more time then they will soon learn how much time they need and request it for future meetings. Also have a designated person to take minutes of the meeting. This will include action items, who is doing it and when it will be completed. Progress on items can be included for the next meeting. Trust me this works!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Don't ever call a meeting just because a regular one is scheduled. If they always cover something important (and I agree with the other comments that you should start promptly, end quickly, and not repeat anything for latecomers) then people will show up so they won't miss anything.

atulnene
atulnene

Write out the summary of the meeting *as you attend it*, not later, and circulate it *as soon as* the meeting is over. (Use a tool - ranging from Notepad to YaMA http://bit.ly/freeyama). Archive the decisions and actions for followup either on email or a central repository. This crucial step extracts the maximum value from your meeting. Go for it. :) Regards, -- Atul

Regulus
Regulus

Start the meeting on time. DO NOT repeat anything for latecomers. Hold latecomers fully responsible for everything covered in the meeting. (You didn't know that Friday was a free company day at the SPA? Gee, the Free Passes were passed out right up to meeting start time. What a pity ! )

TrueDinosaur
TrueDinosaur

Do not attach anything to the meeting invite. The attachments take up mailbox space and most places limit the size of a users mailbox. Send the attachments as a followup email and the user can move the mail out of their Inbox.

dave
dave

We had to do weekly meetings at DEC. Each week a different person chaired the meeting. Meetings usually lasted 60-90 minutes with all the Q & A. Imagine our surprise when we walked in to the board room and all the chairs had been removed. The meeting lasted 30 minutes. The condition called octalverbalits had been eliminated. With the butt to mouth link broken no one was willing to add any comments just to hear themselves speak. No one wanted to keep the others or themselves standing any longer than necessary.

mig25jet
mig25jet

Say there is going to be donuts. That gets 'em there every time!

JohnBoyNC
JohnBoyNC

Ages ago (in the military) a mentor told me this: If one of his meetings goes longer than 15 minutes, he's not done his homework. Get in, cover the subject, open the floor for pertinent questions, get out. If someone has a bunch of questions or wants to start wading through the weeds, take it offline after the meeting ends. I've found this advice invaluable. Nobody ducks one my meetings because they know it'll start on time, be on point and end quickly. And it seems my example is starting to rub off. Other staff meetings are starting to shape up, too. Just my dos centavos.

a.portman
a.portman

Be on time your self. No one will take your 9:30 seriously if you walk in at 9:35. Start. 9:30 is 9:30. Sorry to be so 8th grade about it, but you the late guy, get the notes from someone else later. We will not be covering what you missed. Stay on task. Starting on time should equal ending on time. Duh. Know how to use your own software. A vendor wanted me to be in a webinar. After the third time he could not figure out how to send the correct time from his EDT office to my CDT office (Outlook to Outlook), I did not need to hear anymore about his product.

dave
dave

If you say and don't I can see Guido and Luigi paying you a visit and you WILL feel that in the morning.

bwills80
bwills80

I would say short meetings are not necessarily better. Sometimes there are a lot of issues to discuss and decide on. I think it is more important to prepare what the meeting is about and send out a specific agenda before the meeting and allot time to attendees on the agenda. Key is to keep to the agenda. It will add credibility to the person running the meeting if they keep it on track. People attending will know for certain that a meeting will end when the agenda says.