There will be times when you find yourself in a meeting that’s getting off track. Here are just two examples:
1) When you walk into the meeting where neither you nor your internal champion is the highest-ranking person and when you arrive they're talking about other things.
2) An alpha dog has hijacked the meeting. Once that happens it’s difficult to correct the course. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen to you very often.
Either way, you’re in a pickle. So, how do you rescue the agenda? How do you get everyone paying attention to you instead of the prior, off-topic conversation?
The answer to that question might just involve a little physical theater. Let's imagine you walk in and have a stack of printed agendas. My recommendation is that you walk around the conference table, visiting every seated individual, stand next to each person, and slightly invade their personal space to place an agenda at their place setting.
It’s been my experience that whenever I hand out a hard copy of the meeting agenda in that manner, people immediately pause whatever off-topic conversation they were having and start reading it. I’ve quipped that it’s like hypnotizing a chicken! I’ve heard that if you put a chicken’s beak to the pavement and quickly draw a chalk line from that chicken’s beak straight out for a few feet, the chicken will stare at that line, motionless, until you remove its beak from the pavement. Who knows if it’s true – I would never try it – but you get the point!
Now if you're already on the agenda and someone derails or takes over the meeting, you have to ask yourself, "Did I remember to lay down the ground rules at the beginning?" This is something you should always do. One way to do it is to say, "We've got a flip pad/whiteboard here and we're going to treat that as ‘the parking lot’. If anyone comes up with a topic that we agree should be addressed but can’t be addressed within the context of today’s agenda, we're going to put that topic in the parking lot. At the end of this meeting, we’ll address all of those questions, or set an appropriate time in the near future to do so. Fair enough?"