Preparing for and scheduling meetings is hard work. Wrangling schedules, preparing slides and practicing your pitch all can take up a considerable amount of time, so your online meetings have to go off without a hitch. But what do you do when your meeting starts to go off the rails?
Here are some common ways good meetings can go bad, and how you should handle them:
Problem: Getting off Track
While an icebreaker conversation about the past weekend or the big game last night is encouraged to get your meeting started off, it’s important to stay on track and on task to make the most of everyone’s time. If your meeting starts to veer too far of course into off-topic conversations, or if one voice starts to dominate the conversation and steer the topic away from the meeting’s intended purpose, collaboration and productivity can suffer.
Solution: Bring it Back to the Agenda
A formal, minute-by-minute agenda isn’t always required, but at the very least you should have a breakdown of the topics to be covered in the meeting and the expected outcome. That way, if things start going off track, you have a visible, agreed-upon document to fall back on and get everyone back on task.
Problem: Technical Difficulties
Technical difficulties are one of the most common reasons for delayed starts for online meetings, particularly if your meeting tool requires lengthy downloads or has confusing invitations. And even after the meeting starts, there are additional technical considerations that can disrupt your meeting, such as noisy meeting guests that can’t find their mute buttons or software problems that impact file or screen sharing.
Solution: Learn the Technology
The most important thing you can do to mitigate technology’s impact on your meeting is to familiarize yourself with the tool ahead of time. If you can confidently navigate your online meeting software and manage its features, you can walk your guests through any joining difficulties, mute noisy participants and manage any problems that may arise, letting you and your guests focus on the conversation, not the technology.
Problem: Complete Meltdown
Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to accept the fact that your meeting isn’t running productively or its intended purpose isn’t going to be met and throw in the towel. If a key document isn’t ready yet, key stakeholders are unable to attend or the meeting’s overall purpose is unclear, even the most well-intentioned meeting can quickly turn into a waste of everyone’s time.
Solution: Cancel and Reschedule
While a mid-meeting cancellation and reschedule can be awkward, sometimes it’s the best course of action. However, it’s important to remember that cancelling a meeting doesn’t have to be a negative experience. If you clearly communicate the next steps in a positive way, just like you would at the end of a normal meeting, the next time you get together you can have a more productive interaction.
For example, if a key document is missing or incomplete, reschedule by saying something like, “I think it would be more productive if we reconvened once you’ve had a chance to finalize and review this piece.” Striking a tone such as this keeps things professional, doesn’t turn the conversation overly negative and allows everyone to get on with their day.
Bad meetings usually aren’t a lost cause, however; with these tips in hand, you’ll be ready to roll with the punches and get your meetings back on track.