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A Facilitator’s Guide to Effective Meetings – Part Four: Time-Keeping and Organization

written by: Richard Langly • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 3/31/2010

A common complaint about business meetings is that they always go over time. Learn some easy-to-implement methods to make your meetings more timely and productive, and how you can become more organized as a facilitator.

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    The Importance of Time-Keeping

    Time-keeping is a crucial component of any successful business meeting. In today’s economic climate, time is a resource that cannot be wasted. As a facilitator, it is in your best interest to have a firm grasp on your meeting to ensure it does not run over time. There are some measures you can take, provided you have the confidence to be assertive and take control.

    A Good Facilitator Keeps a Close Eye On Time 

    One characteristic of effective business meetings is that they always start on time. Do you schedule your meetings for a certain time but find they don’t usually start until all attendees are present and settled? Think about how all those lost minutes add up over a year.

    The next time you send out a meeting invitation, describe the start time as "sharp", i.e. “Meeting to take place in the board room, 3:00pm sharp." This sends a message that the start time is not flexible. Here is where you lead by example, and turn up at the meeting early. As the facilitator, you ought to be at the venue and ready to go no later than 10 minutes before the scheduled start time.

    Having made this promise, make sure you do start the meeting at 3:00pm sharp; practice what you preach. Any attendees accustomed to coming in five or 10 minutes late won’t repeat that more than once when they realise you don’t mind starting without them.

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    Strategies for Effective Time Management

    Handling Late-comers

    If someone turns up late and interrupts the current speaker to ask what they have missed, do not derail the meeting further by providing them with a recap. Politely inform them that you will fill them in at the break (if applicable) or after the meeting, and that all important matters will be in the minutes. This then allows the speaker to carry on with what they were saying with a minimum of time wasted. That being said, consider office politics here – if the latecomer is a VIP, it might be prudent to provide a brief rundown before resuming the meeting.

    Setting Time Limits on Agenda Items

    Another way to keep to a tight schedule is to add a time limit to each agenda item. Where this is practicable, it often prompts speakers to keep their remarks brief, again making your role as a facilitator easy. If you find all the agenda items have been covered satisfactorily in a timely manner, then it may even be possible to dismiss the meeting “early", a move guaranteed to make your colleagues happy.

    Never Allow a Meeting to Run Late

    The most important issue regarding time-keeping is never to allow a meeting to go over time. By starting precisely on time, sticking to your agenda and keeping a close eye on the clock, it is fairly easy to make sure everyone gets to leave on time as well. As a facilitator, ensuring your meetings end in a timely manner illustrates that you value your attendees’ time. And for those people heading to another meeting, you avoid doing a disservice to your fellow facilitators!

    Good time-keeping does not exist in a vacuum, however; it is made possible by being organized.

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    Organization – A Key Characteristic of Every Effective Facilitator

    Every successful business meeting I have attended had one thing in common – a confident, organized facilitator. Someone whose desk is in disarray, who is habitually late and leaves thing to the last minute will never facilitate an effective meeting. If that sounds like you, worry not – there are practical ways in which you can organize to prepare for your meeting:

    • Have your papers prepared well in advance of the meeting. Make copies of the agenda, the previous minutes and any new material to hand out to participants
    • Double check your venue booking the day before the meeting – especially if it is to happen outside of your workplace
    • Get to the venue no later than 10 minutes before the start time
    • If any equipment (projector, microphones) will be used, make sure all is in working order before attendees arrive
    • Take a few minutes to reflect on the meeting’s purpose and desired outcomes (see article three in this multipart series, "Tasks and Outcomes"), and consider how you are going to achieve your objectives

    You can never be too organized for a meeting. Part of being organized is about your attitude, how you view the meeting. As a facilitator, realize that it is your job to run the meeting, not for it to run you. With all the necessary elements in place, you will be surprised how easily everything comes together.

A Facilitator’s Guide to Effective Meetings

This multi-part series, A Facilitator’s Guide to Effective Meetings, offers advice on how to conduct an effective meeting that can be utilized by managers from all backgrounds and disciplines. It's particularly useful for project managers who need to keep their team productive and on track.
  1. A Facilitator’s Guide to Effective Meetings – Part One: Introduction
  2. A Facilitator’s Guide to Effective Meetings – Part Two: Tasks and Outcomes
  3. A Facilitator’s Guide to Effective Meetings – Part Three: Agendas and Minutes
  4. A Facilitator’s Guide to Effective Meetings – Part Four: Time-Keeping and Organization