When we run trainings on Meeting Management, one of the common themes that comes up is, what’s the best way to keep the meeting on track when it strays off the agenda?
Now, for whatever reason, some meeting chairmen find it difficult to keep the meeting to the agenda without it sounding like a schoolmaster being irate with his 10-year-old kids! As chair, you have a perfect right to rule any discussions out of order, but don’t embarrass yourself or the group. Say something like, “May I ask what’s the connection between this point and the agenda item?”
This will probably jog the group back on track, unless what is being discussed is actually more important than the agenda item – in which case, you have to decide whether to change the item or get back on track.
Another attention-grabber might be, “We’ve digressed from the agenda here, so can I ask us to return to it, please?”
It will bring the group back to what’s really important. After the meeting, if you have digressed a number of times, you might ask for the group’s input on how you can avoid digressing from the agenda in the future.
If it happens several times, you might want to work out if circulating the agenda and getting agreement before the meeting takes place would be of benefit.
This means you are in control of matters before they occur and the responsibility of keeping to the agenda would fall on everybody’s heads.
By keeping to the agenda, you will find that everyone has their questions answered, and the meeting isn’t sidetracked by members trying to set their own agenda, hidden or otherwise!