How to regain control in a meeting

One of the by-products of having bold ideas is you will often pitch your ideas to groups of people. And whenever you have more than one person in a room, there’s the chance that the conversation gets derailed.

What if you’re caught off guard because people have taken over your meeting?

It’s important to control the meeting so you can move your project forward.

I’ve read advice on this topic in the past, but most recommendations are too abrasive to say to people you actually want to continue working with. "I COULD say that… But my team would be shocked/horrified by how blunt I sound and end up hating me."

For those of us with a collaborative leadership style, it’s important to have scripts you can realistically picture yourself saying.

Here’s what to say to get your meeting back on track and why it works:

1. "That's a good point. It's a bit of a different topic though, so let's park that for now. To follow up with what Jane said earlier, I think we should...."

When to use this: When your audience goes on a tangent.

Why it works: "That’s a good point… Let's park that for now" is good because it makes the person feel acknowledged for their comment. Otherwise it’s dismissive if you say, “That’s a different topic. ANYWAY, MOVING ON…”

The key with this strategy, though, is to redirect and continue talking about the thing you want to talk about. You should redirect immediately. The timing matters. You don't want to give people a chance to object.

By mentioning someone else (Jane in this case), you use subtle peer pressure--you’re showing that everyone else is focused on the main point.

2. "Hmm. Let's take a step back for a second."

When to use this: When your audience gets bogged down in the nitty gritty details.

Why it works: It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re debating details and going down rabbit holes.

"Let's take a step back" makes you sound smart, like you see the forest and trees. It shows that you're watching out for the team and want to make sure everyone keeps their eyes on the prize.

3. "Love that! I want to make sure we cover X because of the Y deadline though. If we don’t figure this out, we’ll have to carve out more time to meet again to discuss this. Are you cool if we continue for now?"

When to use this: When you want them to be mutually accountable for keeping the meeting on track.

Why it works: Explaining with "because" is great. A professor of psychology at Harvard did a famous study which showed that "because" gets people to comply, regardless of the actual reason you cite. But in this example, you’re citing a legitimate concern (an upcoming deadline or milestone).

This strategy is not about quickly redirecting. Instead, it’s about getting the person's buy-in to continue on a topic you should BOTH want to continue on. It’s a reminder that you both benefit from sticking to the topic.

What’s the psychology behind this strategy? By mentioning the cost of going on a tangent, you remind them that the tangent is not free.

The time now “costs” something--it always did, but now the cost is explicit and visible. “If we go on this tangent, we will have to schedule another meeting or meet for longer...”

Most people will gladly stick to the topic if it means ending a meeting on time!

What are strategies you’ve found that work for directing a meeting and getting things back on track?