Some online meetings seem to drag on forever. You can’t even start edging for the door to get the point across to a particularly long-winded speaker, since he’s not going to be able see that subtle gesture. What can you do to keep a meeting moving along when you may not even be in the same country as everyone you’re talking to?

  1. Choose a meeting space with a timer. One of the problems with many online meeting tools is that there isn’t a built-in clock. A few, however, do display the time that a meeting has been going. Just having that ticking timer can help keep people on the agenda, especially if your agenda offers attendees a set number of minutes to talk; one such app is MeetingMix.
  2. Don’t wait for late or missing attendees. If your meeting is set to start at noon, it starts. As long as you either assign a notetaker to keep in-depth notes or use a tool to keep track of notes, people who miss the meeting can catch up.
  3. Tell the other attendees that you have to log off at a certain time. While there are some meetings that you can’t just leave any time you want — when the boss is attending comes to mind — setting a firm end time that can’t be moved can help keep the other attendees moving along.
  4. Make an agenda and enforce it. Having a clear agenda for a meeting can help a lot, but many meetings have trouble actually sticking to that agenda. People want to bring up issues that have occurred since the agenda was set or even just socialize. It can be tough to be the bad guy, but telling your group that new issues need to go onto the next meeting’s agenda and that socializing can happen after the meeting can cut out a lot of wasted time.
  5. Chop the guest list. For many meetings, our first inclination is to invite everyone along who has a stake in the proceedings — after all, the meeting’s online and it’s easy to get everyone in place. That approach only adds more people who can slow down the meeting. Limit the guest list to people who actually make decisions about the matters on the agenda. Anyone else can listen in if they want to (as long as they don’t try to add to the meeting), but it’s best if you can just pass along notes if someone’s really interested.

There are other issues that can make a meeting seem to last forever, of course.  But by keeping the meeting on track, you can help get it finished so you can get back to work (or go to bed!).

How do you keep online meetings on track?

Photo by Flickr user Jessica Mullen, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Report: The Real-Time Enterprise