Learn How To Keep Your Meetings On Topic – Part 2 of 2

With the pre-frame groundwork established let’s review the four specific tactics you can leverage to get your meeting back on track.

1. Hard Redirect

A hard redirect is the most simple and efficient way to get your meeting attendees back on track. However because it is so direct, it might not be appropriate in every organizational culture.

Meeting Leader: OK, we’re getting off course, as this discussion is not directly related to our meeting objectives. In the interest of everyone’s time, we need to move forward.  

The approach here is simple and direct:

  • Interrupt the wayward discussion.
  • Explain why it’s important to get on track (that is, for the sake of time).
  • Tell attendees where to go next.

The hard redirect is short but not so sweet, which is why sometimes a softer redirect is in order.

2. Soft Redirect

The soft redirect follows a similar syntax to the hard redirect but is done in a more sensitive manner. The soft redirect is more appropriate for organization cultures and meeting environments where ruffling feathers is not welcomed.

Meeting Leader: OK I appreciate where you’re going with this discussion, and I also know that we’re getting away from the meeting objectives we established. So in respect of our time together I suggest we move forward.

The approach here is similar to the hard redirect but is done in a slightly more elegant way:

  • Interrupt the wayward discussion by “appreciating” their thoughts “and” letting them know that “we’re” straying from the agenda.
  • Explain why it’s important to get on track.
  • “Suggest” then where to go next and move on.

The approach here is similar to the hard redirect with some noticeable differences in language choice. In particular please note the use of the words “appreciate”, and, “and” were in the first step above, used intentionally to get attendees back on track in a kind manner.

3. Segue
Occasionally meeting attendees will get entrenched in an area of dialogue that just isn’t going any further. Meeting attendees aren’t necessarily off track, but the discussion has clearly exhausted itself and there really isn’t any more ground to cover. This can happen in places of violent agreement where attendees continually reinforce each other, or instances where they just get lost reflecting on and rehashing the recent dialogue. In any case the path forward here is a simple tactic we refer to as the segue.

Meeting Leader: OK, well done, and that’s a great segue to our next agenda item.

The segue provides a clean (friendly) transition point for attendees while acknowledging the progress that’s been made.

  • Interrupt the exhausted discussion.
  • Acknowledge the progress made (for example, “well done”).
  • Segue to the next agenda item.

The approach here is so simple and yet it’s a remarkably effective tool for moving meetings along in a very efficient manner.

4. Capture and Move On

It is common to reach an area of discussion that is well within the scope of the meeting (that is, it is not off topic) yet is far from being complete (that is, not something to segue). These discussions happen when there is an impasse or a stalemate that has been reached and it’s clear that it’s not going to be resolved during the meeting time allocated. Rather than consuming precious meeting time, the role of the meeting leader is to redirect in a way that doesn’t ignore the impasse but allows the meeting to continue—a tactic we refer to as capture and move on.

Meeting Leader: OK, it’s clear we’re not going to solve this issue during our time today, and I want to be sure we use our time wisely, so I will capture this as an open item and ensure we have enough time allocated in our next meeting to resolve. So let’s move on.

The goal is to bring the discussion to a close so that it can be addressed at a more optimal time (that is, when you have sufficient time and attendance to resolve the matter). Like all the other redirect tactics, the first step is to interrupt the discussion, followed by three steps that allow for a quick transition back to your meeting.

  • Interrupt the stalled discussion.
  • Explain why it’s important to table the discussion (for example, in the interest of time).
  • Ensure attendees that the matter will be captured.
  • Assign (or take) an action item to do whatever needs to be done next.

Attendees need closure on open items and want to know that some action is going to be taken as a result of the discussion. Capture and move on provides them what they want so that you can productively move forward with the rest of your meeting.

Simply stated, redirecting is a critical responsibility of the meeting leader. With focused redirecting, a meeting leader is in a powerful position to impact the quality of meeting results. With this skill, the leader also affects the tone of the meeting and increases the probability of attendees working together in a collaborative manner.

What are your experiences getting people back on track during meetings?

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