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We've Got To Start Meeting Like This

Make them quick, organised and to the point, and people won't even mind that guy who hums under his breath People complain all the time that they spend half their time at meetings and they don't get much done, says Frances Micale, CEO of Micale Training in Atlanta. For people who spend part of their workweek closeted in meetings, such observations ring all too true. It doesn't have to be that way. From those who collectively have run enough meetings to make most of us shudder, here are some tactics to keep in mind.

Know your objective. Be clear what you want the meet-ing to accomplish. Then share that goal with the meeting attendees before or at the beginning of the meeting.

Develop an agenda. Your agenda is going to get you to your objective, says Micale. On the agenda, identify the meeting topic, the start and finish time, the attendees, the presenters and their topics, as well as the time allotted for each agenda item.

Invite the right people. Too often, says Micale, "people are drawn away from their jobs without the slightest thought of whether they need to be there. You end up inconveniencing them, having them resent the fact that they don't know why they are there and costing the organisation their salary.

Start on time. When Alan Goldsworthy started as CEO of Applix, a provider of customer analytics and business planning (such as CRM), he started fining employees $1 for every minute they were late to a meeting. "People are much more mindful that a meeting has to start on time, says Goldsworthy. He starts his meetings on time regardless of stragglers.

Facilitators should never be late, says Eli Mina, a Vancouver-based professional meeting facilitator. "If they're late, it gives everyone else licence to be late.

Use a skilled facilitator. Jamie Walters, president of San Francisco-based InnoVision Communication, a company that advises businesses on internal communications, suggests that the facilitator be "someone who can keep participants focused on the agenda items and navigate prickly interpersonal issues so that the meeting is effective instead of dysfunctional". The facilitator should also ensure that the meeting isn't dominated by one or two people. Micale advises against the boss as facilitator so that attendees won't be inclined to say what they think the boss wants to hear, even if it is the boss's meeting.

Have tools available. To avoid last-minute scrambling, Emma Pearson-Stoner, a vice president at Miller Shandwick Technologies public relations agency in Boston, makes sure before meeting time that equipment that might be needed - projectors, whiteboards, pens, notepads, markers and so on is available.

Be aware of physical comforts. Don't serve sleep-inducing heavy meals or alcohol during a meeting, says Mina. Judy Taylor, CEO of Taylor'd Communications in St Louis, suggests that you make sure there are no auditory and visual distractions, more than 90 minutes don't pass without a stretch or break, the room doesn't get too warm and the lighting isn't too dull.

Outlaw mobile phones. When you're talking to someone and all of a sudden his mobile phone goes off and he answers it, he's just told you that whatever you're talking about is less important than that phone call, says Goldsworthy.

Conclude with an action plan. At the end of the meeting, the leader should summarise what's been discussed, advises Sue Pistone, CEO of Sue Pistone & Associates, a time-management consultancy in Houston. Then decide who is responsible for whatever follow-up is needed, and set target dates for completion.

The worst meetings I've seen, says Walters, are those where there isn't a good reason for the meeting, there's a poor agenda or none at all, the meeting creeps its way into a several-hour ordeal, participants are unprepared and there's no skilled facilitation. The result? Wasted time and deflated energy for the participants, not to mention a culture of meeting dread! Good meetings are more rare, but you know when you're attending one. The purpose is clear, participants are prepared, conversation is dynamic and it ends promptly, with next steps defined.

We don't need to meet to agree with those conclusions.

Jeffrey Seglin is the author of The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart (Wiley, 2000). He teaches at Emerson College in Boston.

Real world/Reliable Sources.

The press, including CIO, loves smart, articulate experts who can help them do their jobs better. Here's how to become one"To be a good source for somebody means making it as easy as I can for the reporter to do his job, says Mark MacIntyre, a public affairs specialist for the US Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle. MacIntyre is not entirely selfless: The easier I make it for a reporter to package information so that it's accessible to his readers, the more likely he's going to come back to me.

Say your goal is to fashion yourself as an authority, a go-to source when the media is looking for sound information on your area of expertise. Perhaps you're looking for exposure to enhance your reputation or your company's. Maybe you want to educate the market about your line of work so that customers will beat a path to your door. Then again, you may just have a sincere desire to be helpful when it comes to spreading information in your area of expertise. Commit these guidelines to memory, practise them in your dealings with the press, and you'll elevate your chances of matching your goal to any reporter's needs.

Understand your company's media guidelines.

If you work for a large company that employs media relations staff, check with them to see how to proceed in an interview with the press. Even though some companies insist that all media requests go through the public relations department, a member of the press still might call you directly. The worst thing you can do is to talk to him before telling him that everything is off the record until you clear it with your PR person. Best to check first. The same goes for making any deals up front about what's on and off the record. If you want anything you say to be off the record, establish that in the beginning and be specific about what you mean by the term. Can the reporter quote you, just not by name? Can he not quote you at all? Most good reporters will want to talk to you on the record because anonymous sources don't seem credible. If you don't want to be quoted, don't talk to the press in the first place.

Honour deadlines. Reporters on deadline have a reputation for coming across somewhat brusque. Ignore the brusqueness. Find out their deadline, and honour whatever commitment you made to get back to them with information. If you aren't able to talk to them within the time frame they need or if you aren't interested in responding on a particular topic, give the reporter a courtesy call or e-mail to decline," advises Kristin Bowl, media affairs manager for the Society for Human Resource Management, a trade group in Virginia. Ignoring calls is not an option.

Equally important as accessibility, says Matthew Rovner, partner at Ward Rovner & Partners, a public relations, advertising and marketing company in Boston, is to let the reporter know where you are. You can't be a great resource if no one can reach you, he says.

Know the target market. The best sources pre-digest information for reporters. Get to know who their publication's readers are because they are your ultimate audience. It's up to you to understand who the reporters are going to be talking to, says MacIntyre. Then tailor the information so that it makes it easy for them to explain it, whether it's to congressional members, kids or moms. Refrain from using any industry jargon, Bowl advises. Say everything in plain English.

Know when to say, I don't know" There's nothing worse than a source who feels the need to talk even when he hasn't a clue what he's talking about. "I try to be as helpful as I can and never try to talk about something I don't know, says Lu Setnicka, director of public affairs for Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company based in California.

If you don't know an answer, say so, says Rovner. And tell the reporter you'll find out the answer and get back to him in a timely manner. But don't leave him hanging. Call back whether you have the answer or not.

Point to more resources. As a source, you should be willing to provide other resources to writers whether or not they're likely to agree with your take. Such advice not only helps the writer, says Kay Hammer, founder and CEO of Evolutionary Technologies International, a software company in Texas, and author of Workplace Warrior (Amacom, 2000); it also protects both of you from mistakes. "You don't want to be the source of misinformation and ruin both your and the writer's credibility, she says.

Provide information in context. You can say: ‘Here's not only the juice I'm giving you, but here's why what I'm saying is important', says MacIntyre.

Be brief. Try to keep your comments as focused and on point as possible. Don't ramble, says Rovner. Try to be as concise as possible. Then stop talking.

Once you decide to become a source, remember that no matter the outcome, you have little control over the final story. When you are simply the source for an article and not the focus, it's not that important that you are happy with how the information you provided was used, after all, it's not your article, says Hammer.

Even if you are the subject of the article, she says, you shouldn't get too concerned with the result. In other words, don't believe your press. If it's good, odds are it is too good, and if it's bad, well, I'm sure you have some redeeming qualities.

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