Whether you are meeting with clients, colleagues or members of your board, you will want to make sure that you have a good discussion that reaches a solid conclusion. However, this is often easier said than done. Without a skilled guiding hand to keep the conversation on the right track, you can end up having an unproductive time.

If you are responsible in any way for chairing or leading a meeting, you are going to need to make sure it remains on-topic for the duration. Otherwise you are going to struggle to talk about any pressing issues you have. However, people have a tendency to get distracted and overcomplicate conversations.

If you can guide a discussion, your meetings will always be on-track and beneficial to everyone who attends. Here are some tips you can use to make sure your meetings are productive and worthwhile:

Have a detailed agenda

Agendas are absolutely essential for meetings, so if you are not using them at all then you need to rectify this. Without a list in front of them of the topics to be discussed, meeting attendees will talk about whatever they feel is the most important, which can completely derail your idea of how the discussion should go.

If you already make use of agendas, you should make sure they are detailed enough. Breaking each item up into two or three subheadings will ensure there is no confusion about what exactly you are intending discuss. If your items are too vague, each person might have a very different idea about what is to be discussed.

Don't be afraid to interrupt

It might seem rude, but interrupting people is sometimes the only way to take control of a discussion. It is often necessary to cut people off before they take the conversation off-topic and into an area you do not wish to talk about. However, interrupting politely and professionally is a very useful skill.

"Sorry to cut you off, but if we could focus on X right now and we'll come back to your point later" is a much better way to take control of a discussion than by rudely butting in when someone is trying to talk.

Try to come back to off-topic points at the end of the meeting. That way, you are not eliminating anyone's chance to have their say, while at the same time making sure you get through all the points in your meeting agenda.

Focus on questions and answers

Asking a question is a great way to focus your discussion. If you give people a topic to talk about, they will approach it from wildly different directions. This can be good for brainstorming in general, but if you have a specific problem to solve it can be an annoyance.

Asking a question ensures that the discussion will be focused on answering it. This will keep your meetings on track surprisingly effectively, without you having to strong-arm people into talking about the right topics.