With so many personalities involved, it's easy for a meeting to get sidetracked. If you don't have the right tools in your arsenal to get the discussion back on topic, you can end up wasting the time of multiple people.
Although it's good to encourage debate, there's definitely a point at which it stops being productive and when it just becomes completely irrelevant. It can also be extremely frustrating if participants feel their time is being wasted.
However, this doesn't mean the whole meeting needs to be a write-off as there are ways you can get everyone back on the same page.
Here are six smart tactics that you can use to get your meeting back on track:
Refer to the agenda
Every good meeting starts with an agenda. Even if it's just a Word document with the points of discussion written down, it can be an extremely beneficial tool to have. This is especially true if your meeting starts going off track, as you can refer participants back to the agenda and get them back on topic.
Address those that wander off topic
Tackling those who wander off topic may seem confrontational, but there are subtle ways you can do it. Simply saying 'That's a great point, but I don't think we have time to get into it today', or 'we can go into that in more detail next week' can allow people to get their focus back. Addressing contributors who veer away from the meeting's main objectives will also help to ensure you get the outcomes you desire.
Guide the discussion
If you feel as though things are getting away from the heart of the issue, try to guide the conversation back to it by asking a key question. This will help get the meeting back on track without people feeling as though you are overriding them or disregarding their opinion. Often people feel that only the top-ranking person in the meeting or those who organized it can do this, but don't wait for them, use your initiative and help out.
Have someone to keep notes
Getting someone to keep notes can help keep people on topic, especially if used alongside the agenda. This means you can see the key takeaways from each point discussed and when the conversation has veered too far away from the main topic.
Ensure there's enough time
Ensuring you have enough time in the meeting to discuss all the topics you need to is perhaps one of the most difficult but effective ways of keeping people on track. You want to make sure that all participants feel they've had the time to contribute what they want to on each area. Not allowing enough time may mean some contributors hark back to points made previously, derailing the meeting's progress, or fail to engage with subsequent topics because they're still focused on the previous one.
Don't recap but summarize later
Dragging out a meeting by having a 'conclusion' point to recap all of its outcomes can lead to a much longer session than necessary, as well as participants becoming frustrated. Of course, it's important that everyone knows what was concluded from the conversation but do this in a follow-up email instead. This will allow all participants to read it in their own time, while also reminding them of any actions they need to take.