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  • Writer's pictureBarb Bickford

4 Ways to Refocus Your Meetings

Updated: Jun 3

Meetings are a big part of our work lives. We come together in rooms or online, hoping to work together and make progress.

But have you ever been in meetings that wander all over the place, making you feel frustrated and not really involved? Or -- do the people (including you) sometimes find it hard to pay attention?

A water color painting of business people sitting around a table, reading their phones and not paying attention to a meeting.
Do your meetings lack focus, like this one?

This common issue can really affect how much we get done and how well we work as a team. When meetings lack focus and people are not paying attention, it wastes time, slow down our work, and leave us feeling like we are never going to get anywhere.

In this article, we'll look at how meeting leaders can keep everyone focused, interested and ready to go.

Where things go off track

Here are four challenges that can make our meetings feel unfocused:

  1. Unclear purpose: Sometimes, the person organizing the meeting doesn't have a clear reason for why the meeting is happening.

  2. Undefined agenda: Even if there is a reason for the meeting, the plan for what will be discussed isn't detailed enough for everyone to know what to expect.

  3. Wandering topics: Sometimes, the topics talked about during the meeting aren't the ones that were planned.

  4. Attractive distractions: People in the meeting get distracted by emails, their phones, other work, what's going on around them, or chatting with others.

Each of these challenges needs a different approach to fix.

Strategies to refocus meetings

Let's talk about some things we can do to have better, more focused meetings and who should be responsible for making them happen. These ideas can help you guide your meetings and make sure they stay on track and get things done.

When the purpose is unclear: Leaders make sure everyone knows why the meeting is happening. If not, they either explain the goal or think about whether the meeting needs to happen at all.

When the agenda is undefined: Leaders who plan their meetings carefully find that everyone stays more engaged. They decide why the meeting is important, who should be there, what will be talked about, how it will happen, what people need to prepare, and when and where the meeting will take place. They then share this plan (that is, the agenda) with everyone before the meeting so others know what to expect.

When topics wander: For each topic, someone is in charge of keeping the discussion on track. This person guides the conversation and makes sure everyone is involved. They also manage time or ask someone else to do it. If a topic needs more time, they write it down in a “parking lot” and either talk about it at the end of the meeting or plan another meeting just for that. 

A great way to keep everyone involved and on track is to put people in small groups and give them a job to do together. For instance, you might ask them to come up with ideas and choose the best one to share with everyone else. This helps everyone join in and contribute for their ideas, and it gets everyone focused on solving problems together.

When people are distracted: While each person needs to try to focus their own attention, leaders can help by asking interesting questions and calling on people by name. The group can set rules about taking part, like putting away phones and turning on cameras.

Other ways to keep people engaged include:

-- Talking and socializing a bit at the start to get everyone ready for the meeting.

-- Helping people connect with the topic and talking with each other early on.

-- Changing things up, taking short breaks, moving around, and trying different ways of doing things.

We can keep meetings on track

We have the power to lead these changes and boost how effective our meetings are. Dealing with focus in meetings can improve both our meetings and their results. By understanding the challenges and using these strategies to align and engage people, we can turn our meetings into focused and productive times.

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