business meeting target training

Getting meetings back on track

Do you ever feel your meetings have gone off track?

You’re in a meeting to talk about one thing, but someone is talking about something completely different, someone else is discussing an unimportant point, and others are debating something completely irrelevant – the whole meeting has gone off track! When this happens, it’s hard to get back on track and return to your meeting agenda. In international meetings with foreign colleagues, this can be much harder as you don’t want to seem rude or too forceful about sticking to the schedule.  You could watch the clock and give warnings when people are talking too much or are going over their allotted time, but again this could be misinterpreted as impolite and bad-mannered.

To avoid damaging delicate business relationships, here are some common ways and phrases for getting the meeting back on track in a professional an polite manner.

Be the moderator

  • Sorry, but we’re getting off topic and need to move back to …
  • Let’s return to the main point of today’s meeting.
  • We seem to be talking outside of the scope of the meeting.

Consider the value of the current discussion

  • Do we need to add this topic to the agenda?
  • Maybe we can get back on topic and postpone this to later?
  • Is everyone happy if we discuss this later?

Focus on the schedule / time

  • We’re running short on time, so can we move back to…
  • I’m afraid we’re running out of time.
  • I’m afraid I can only give you another minute.

Talk about briefness

  • Please keep to the point everyone.
  • Please make your comments brief.
  • Please keep your remarks short.

More on meetings?

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We also have a number of seminars that might be of interest to you.

3 replies
  1. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    Thanks to both of you Gerhard and Will for replying to my article – these are really tricky questions! I completely agree with Will that you can try these strategies for moving things along.

    Another trick we use is to give someone the role of timekeeper. It’s their job to keep things on time, they are objective and not the moderator so no one feels they are being judged. This works if the timekeeper does the same thing for every speaker.

    However, if you are in the position that the person has to keep going as you need the information, I would make sure you ask them to stick to the deadline (later on) and to let you know next time that they will go over their time before they start so you can make changes to the agenda.

    I hope this all helps! Thanks for reading!

  2. Will
    Will says:

    In reply to your query, Gerhard, I think that this really tricky situation can only be avoided by preparing a clear agenda with a time schedule before, if possible. Once a presenter has reached the stage which you described, there are very few options left, and the situation must be handled with great tact.

    Jenny mentioned that some speakers can be talking about something completely different – often for their own strategic reasons, e.g. to boast about their own achievements. If someone in your meeting is digressing unreasonably, and won’t let others speak, try the following:

    • speak their name loudly and clearly, which will make them stop straightaway
    • make it clear that you need to get back to the point at hand
    • alternatively, request to move on to the next point on the agenda
    • consider thanking the speaker and suggesting they speak to you about their topic at a later date. This is only relevant if diplomacy is particularly important in your business relations.

  3. Gerhard
    Gerhard says:

    Thank you for the article.
    I think it is sometimes not easy to choose the right moment to intervene.
    And sometimes you don’t really know how much time is needed for a topic. If someone has, let’s say, 10 minutes for his lecture and you find out, that after 13 minutes he is only half way through, what to do? Maybe he has unfolded his ideas rather broadly, but you haven’t been aware of that in the first 10 minutes?

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