No matter what business you’re in, the odds are that you spend at least some time in appointments. Your appointments may be big group meetings, one-on-ones, or even job interviews. You may even be skipping the face-to-face aspect of meeting and be taking conference calls or using Skype. No matter what type of meeting you’ve scheduled, though, these tips can help you improve your appointment setting skills.
- Set agendas ahead of time. Knowing what you plan to accomplish in a meeting can help you decide how long to plan to stay at that appointment — assuming you can keep to your agenda. It can be hard to get other people to stay on track, but no one really wants to spend all day in a single appointment. Furthermore, completing an agreed upon agenda is really the only way to be sure when your meeting is over.
- Offer time and date options for appointments. Rather than going through a lengthy back and forth, either on the phone or via email, pick two or three appointment times that work for you and present them to the other half of your appointment. If you’re dealing with a larger group, it’s almost guaranteed that at least one option won’t work for someone, and having multiple options is a much faster way to reach consensus.
- Avoid fancy software applications. While there is some very snazzy appointment setting software out there, try to avoid using anything out of the ordinary. The exception to this rule is parties or very large meetings. In general, using these applications take more time than they’re worth — there’s a learning curve for new users, and having to visit a site to respond can take double the time of replying to an email. However, when you’re trying to coordinate large groups of people, using an application can provide a central location rather than sending out huge batches of emails.
- Make sure you really need a meeting. Plenty of appointments are set for simple things like handing over a document for approval. Unless that document is short enough to be completely examined during the meeting, it might be more worthwhile to drop off the document and come back later to answer questions and handle the approval process. Before actually setting your appointment, think about whether the matter could be handled in a faster way.
- Minimize travel time. One of the reasons that appointments eat up so much time in our calendars is the necessity of travel. We have to travel to clients’ offices, coffee shops or wherever the heck we’re meeting. We can minimize that commitment by suggesting that we meet at our own locations, meet halfway, or skip meeting in person altogether. Options like telephone calls or video conferencing can often handle all the requirements of that appointment you were going to drive across town for.
- Schedule time for both preparation and debriefing. When you set your appointment, think about what you might need to do to prepare for it — review a report, prepare a presentation or iron your shirt — and schedule time for each of those activities before your actual appointment. It’s also worthwhile to schedule a fifteen-minute prep session just before your appointment for any last minute details. Same goes for afterwards: you may have certain follow-up tasks to handle after your meeting. Scheduling at least a few minutes after an appointment guarantees that you’ll have time to make sure your notes are complete and any sort of further action at least makes it on to your calendar (if you can’t do it then).
- Separate personal and business appointments. Many of us try to load all of our out-of-the-office appointments into one day. Ignoring the problem of what happens if just one runs late, you’ve got the issue of trying to switch gears between the presentation you just gave to a client and the shot the doctor’s waiting to give you. That sort of mental switch up can only make it harder to handle your later appointments. Try to schedule your personal and business appointments on different days.
- Keep your appointment schedulers up to date. If you aren’t the only person scheduling your appointments, it’s vital to keep the others in the loop. Otherwise, your significant other might be expecting you at a family dinner at the same time you’re finishing up a major project. I like shared calendars, such as Google Calendar for that very reason, but there are ways to share just about every type of calendar, if you’re reliant on your own system. Appointment schedulers can include your manager, your significant other, an administrative assistant (yours or the departments) and a whole host of other people.
- Limit invitees. You may not need the whole company present for a progress report. Instead, decide who actually needs to be in on your appointment — you can always send out a mass email later on if people feel left out. I’ve been in situations before where higher ups felt left out if you didn’t bring them in on every single appointment you were setting up. The best bet seems to be presenting the meeting as something that wouldn’t be a valuable use of their time.
- Confirm everything! Confirm when and where the meeting is, what the agenda covers, even how to get there. All you really need is a brief email a day or two before the appointment that outlines the appointment and ask for a simple yes in response if everything is correct.
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