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?