Meeting Mistakes You’re Making Within Minutes

Nix these faux pas to keep your meeting productive.

After months of planning and preparation, meeting planners want their events to go off without a hitch. And for meetings where getting down to business is especially important, staying on agenda is key. 

But there are certain blunders that can derail any meeting within minutes—and steer you and your client off course for good.

Mistake: Starting late
Meetings can start late for a variety of reasons: not enough setup time, people running behind or a vendor that forgot half the sandwiches in your food order. But no matter the reason, delaying a meeting’s start time keeps your attendees waiting. And as seconds turn to minutes and minutes to hours, it’s likely that your guests’ patience will turn to agitation—which doesn’t reflect well on you or your client.

How to fix it: Plan for mistakes. 
Remember Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong likely will, so pad your pre-meeting schedule with extra time in case you need to remedy any roadblocks. That way, you’ll be ready—and so will your guests—come the scheduled meeting start time. But be careful of falling prey to Parkinson’s Law, or the idea that a task will expand or contract to take as long as the time allotted to its completion. Identify what it means for each item on your to-do list to be “done,” and avoid creating additional work that doesn’t work toward that point.

Mistake: Negative body language or facial expressions
No surprise here: Making a good first impression counts. Research shows that happy expressions are more likely to inspire trust. So if you open the meeting fidgeting and mumbling with your eyes downcast, what kinds of messages are you sending to your audience?

The answer: You might come off as someone unreliable, not knowledgeable and potentially not worth listening to. 

How to fix it: Smile, sit up straight, make eye contact and speak clearly. 
Because first impressions are formed in milliseconds, it’s important to set the right tone straightaway. If you’re nervous, fold your hands and place them in your lap or on the table to refrain from fidgeting. Don’t talk too fast; instead, take a deep breath and speak slowly to avoid tripping up on your words. Sounding and looking confident—even when you’re not!—can make you seem more reliable and credible. And when you act excited to be there, the people you’re speaking with will mirror your energy and enthusiasm, too.

Mistake: Forgetting your purpose
Understanding the client’s endgame is crucial to the success of any event. Hourslong introductory games or lengthy anecdotes can be a fun and entertaining way to kick off a conference, but if they don’t align with the goals of the event, then they might not be worth spending time on. People are busy and have set aside time to be at your meeting, so you need to make it worth your audience’s while.

How to fix it: Always keep your meeting’s goal top of mind. 
The first step to successful meeting planning is determining your client’s overarching goal. Once you have a handle on the event’s objective, everything else—from the table settings and food to the content of the meeting itself—should follow in a way that helps you achieve that goal.

For example, if you’re hosting a networking event, it’s natural to set aside time for guests to get to know each other on their own terms before getting started. But if the event is focused on strict instruction, then a purely social sort of interaction might conflict with the meeting’s purpose. When you know what the goal is, you can make strategic decisions that keep both your client and the audience happy.

Remember, if something goes off-kilter in the first few moments of a meeting, that doesn’t spell chaos or disaster for the rest of the event. Take a deep breath, keep your energy up and act accordingly to bring your meeting back on course.