Three Meeting Strategies to Overcome Stagnation

Apr 23, 2019 |Posted by Jared Simmons | Coaching

We’ve all been there before. It took you three weeks to find a time on everyone’s calendar. You found the perfect room and showed up early to make sure the previous meeting didn’t run over. You’ve spent countless hours working on your agenda and slides and even reading articles like this on productivity. And then it happens–the conversation gets stuck. Your time is rapidly dwindling and you’re still on agenda item one. You simply cannot afford to have this group disperse to their thousand other priorities without covering these items. So what do you do? Here are a few meeting strategies that can help you get the conversation moving forward again.  

Clearly restate the point that the conversation is stuck on  

Restating the point pauses the unproductive back and forth and triggers people who have tuned out to re-engage. It often exposes a simple misunderstanding or semantics issue that created the sticking point.  

Here’s how to try it out: 

“Let me make sure I’m clear on the point we’re discussing…” 

“Just to clarify, what we’re trying to decide is whether to…”  

Recap the options being discussed  

An effective recap of the options is helpful when one person has monopolized the time or has a different standing in the conversation due to level or function. Our perception of ideas can also be affected by the presenter’s communication skills. Recapping them all in a parallel format separates the options from who presented it and how it was presented. It also prompts listeners to start the mental process of prioritizing options.  

Here’s how to try it out: 

“So I’m hearing three possibilities in the room right now… [Recommended: stand and go to a whiteboard or flipchart to write them in the order you heard them] The first idea I heard was… did I get that right? Ok, the second was…” 

Identify the key factors people are using to evaluate options  

Each person is using a conscious or unconscious set of criteria to evaluate each idea. This technique gets them out in the open to create a productive conversation. It allows you to shift the discussion from specific ideas to the key elements of a desired outcome. This can even lead to new, better options being created on the spot. It also gives people context to express their specific concerns with an idea instead of conversation-stopping general opposition.  

Here’s how to try it out: 

“I think if we lay these ideas out, we might be able to better differentiate between them. [Go to a whiteboard here] It seems like whatever option is chosen, it will impact the business in three ways: X, Y, and Z. [write them as headers for a chart as you speak–leave room to the left for row labels]. Did I miss any key impact areas? [add 1-2 more; replace your thought starters if more important factors are identified].”  

“OK, let’s take the three ideas we have [write them vertically to the left as row labels] and give them a ranking in each impact area. [Go column by column until complete. You can then add a total column (if you used number rankings–I often use High/Med/Low for simplicity), or start the conversation with the chart as-is.]”  

These techniques have salvaged meetings that were seemingly hopelessly off track. That leads to better outcomes and faster projects. And it keeps you from spending another month trying to schedule a follow-up meeting to cover those critical items you didn’t get to.  

Try one out in a meeting and let me know how it goes! 


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Jared Simmons

Jared is the founder of Outlast Consulting LLC, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations with strategy, process improvement, and professional development. He is an engineer by training with experience in market research, product development, innovation, management consulting, and strategic planning at P&G, McKinsey, and Coca-Cola.


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