How to shut down an over-talker at your next meeting

Going off topic can quickly derail meetings

By Kathryn Vasel, CNN Business
Copyright 2019 CNN

Meetings can be a bore, but they can really drag on when someone is talking too much or going off topic.

ATLANTA - Meetings can be a bore, but they can really drag on when someone is talking too much or going off topic.

If one person dominates the conversation, it can deter others from speaking up and mean missing out on new ideas and getting a variety of opinions.

"I've never led a team where there isn't some degree of someone who is an over-talker," said Ellen Faye, a productivity and leadership coach.

Leaders need to learn how to manage a meeting. They need to take charge when someone goes off the rails, but they also need to tread carefully when it comes to reining the person in.

"You want meetings to be useful, and if you have someone who goes on and on -- that meeting has become non-productive," said Faye.

 

Set a firm agenda

 

It's easier to keep people on track with a comprehensive agenda that includes topics and time frames. It provides a blueprint to what will (and won't) be discussed, which can help people stay on topic.

Set the tone of the meeting from the start: Telling attendees that you plan to keep things moving and on topic can make people more aware of their speaking time and make it less awkward if you have to step in.

 

Create time limits

 

Setting parameters can also help curb over-talkers.

You can request that people keep their comments to around one minute or two, or that they share their top thought and then move on to the next person, Faye recommended.

Another option is to outline that you want to hear from each participant at least once, but no more than three times. "That way, everyone is compelled to speak up and participate, but the over-talkers will be more limited," said Faye.

 

Steer them back on track

 

We can all get into the weeds sometimes and risk getting bogged down with details that aren't relevant.

If that's happening, Faye suggested saying something like: Those are great details to work on. Let's keep a note of that for later.

"It takes a leader with confidence to know when enough is enough," she said.

 

Create a 'parking lot'

 

Making sure participants feel heard is important, but sometimes their ideas just aren't relevant to the topic at hand. Those ideas can be sent to a "parking lot," which is a list you create, either on paper or for everyone to see.

This validates an idea, but keeps the conversation on topic. Just make sure to circle back to the parking lot at the end of the meeting.

"The actions in the parking lot need to be forwarded in some way," advised Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach. That could mean moving an idea to the next meeting's agenda, assigning someone to look into it, or dealing with it via email.

 

Politely interrupt

 

if there's a serial over-talker or someone has been going off on a tangent for several minutes, it could be time to interrupt -- just be polite about it.

If someone is being verbose and not getting to their point, Crawford suggested saying something like: "Joe, if I can interrupt, I think that is a great thought. Do you have any recommendations of how we can implement that plan or strategy?"

She also said phrases like: "Sorry to interrupt, but in the interest of time" or "bringing us back to the agenda" can also get people back on track without coming off as harsh.

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