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10 tips for getting the most out of business meetings

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Ive been to many a meeting in my life. Fruitful and foul, friendly and feisty, focused and fraught, meetings that ended abruptly, meetings that ended promptly whether finished or not, meetings that went on all day (and sometimes all night) regardless of need. 

Meetings where expected participants didnt bother to turn up and meetings people joined as their idea of a surprise! If time spent in meetings is a qualification in itself then Im an expert! In reality managing meetings can be a difficult task and Im not perfect at it. But hundreds of meetings later here are some things Ive learnt which may help make your meetings better.

1. Determine the purpose in advance. It sounds obvious but meetings are so much more successful if the person who calls them, and better still everyone else, knows why theyre happening! Not every purpose will be life changing. Some may be so I can explain or so I can let Johnny down gently ! If you can, send out a clear agenda.

2. Dont build up expectations too highly. I once attended a meeting involving a number of senior people at a nice hotel in order to put straight the relationship between our companies . Our side thought that meant so we could be given a better deal . We were wrong and our relationship went backwards when we realized they had absolutely nothing to offer except a nice lunch.

3. Invite the right people. If your meeting has a purpose then you really only need those who can help achieve it to be there. Dont invite the CEO to discuss invoice queries. She may end up derailing the whole process. But dont expect decisions to be made if the decision maker isnt there.

4. Invite the right number of people. Meetings with 40 people in them may have their purpose but neither negotiation or decision making are generally it. No more than 6 people works best for me. If you want to handle a difficult issue where a climb down or loss of face is likely do it on a one to one basis.

5. Schedule a time slot. Im not somebody who thinks meetings should be run precisely to the clock, the purpose matters more than the time it takes. But out of courtesy to all those attending meetings should start on time and you should try to keep to an estimated finish time. A bit of social chat is often a great way to start a meeting but dont forget this when planning the schedule.

6. Create the right environment. This sounds like a small point but actually a decent meeting room, with the right temperature and light really matter as does the welcome given. Being considerate of people even (or especially) when bad news is coming is part of your brand. I can still remember driving a hundred miles to be fired from a major contract without having been aware it was under any threat. It was disappointing to lose the contract (although we did get it back a bit later) but to be sacked without even getting a cup of tea was something else again. If a meeting is at lunchtime offer food!

7. Start by welcoming everyone and telling them what you hope to achieve.

8. Give everyone their chance to speak and no one the chance to grandstand, pursue their own agenda or waffle! Next.

9. Stay focused on the agenda. AOB comes last for a reason!

10. When youve got what you want, get the hell out of there before people change their minds! Make sure you create a record of whats been agreed. You dont normally need to record who said what just who is going to DO what. Most of my meetings arent messy but if there is any mess after a meeting, dont forget to clean it up!

Sometimes people feel they have lost out, their ideas have not been taken forward, maybe they have acted negatively. Id take all this offline after the meeting, making sure the person understands your motives and is brought back on board or into line as the case may be!

Ian Baxter is chairman and founder of Baxter Freight

Related: How to keep your meetings efficient

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