How to Handle the Unexpected When Running Meetings

The most important thing is to keep your cool and to keep the meeting focused on the task at hand. Its natural, and in fact almost inevitable, that when something surprising happens in a meeting we will be taken off guard, and some of us will be more flustered than others.

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While some of us might try to quickly regain our composure and move on with the meeting, others might become so distracted by their embarrassment that they completely lose focus. Its important to remind everyone in the meeting that youre all there for a purpose, and that the purpose doesnt have to revolve around the unexpected occurrences. 

How to Handle the Unexpected When Running Meetings

Handle the Unexpected

Let’s admit it. Running a meeting is hard. It can be one of the more difficult things that an executive has to do. The responsibilities of the person who organizes the meeting can be quite daunting, especially when unexpected things happen.

This is especially true when the meeting is with important individuals or groups. You will have to deal with issues as they arise. Staying focused on the big picture. When an unexpected problem arises during your meeting, the worst thing that you can do is to react in a way that distracts everyone from the main objective of the meeting.

The participants in the meeting are not there to help you deal with the unexpected. They are there to work on a project, solve a problem, or develop a plan.

You don't want to be caught flat-footed in public. How can you prevent this from happening? You can make sure that you are ready to deal with the unexpected a few minutes before the meeting starts.

By staying calm, you can remain focused, project authority, and help the participants of the meeting regain their focus and continue the meeting without getting sidetracked.

The Importance of Keeping Your Cool

Having trouble keeping your cool when faced with unprofessional meetings?

Try following these five steps to learn how to handle the unexpected when running team meetings.

1. Listen to the situation.

Listen before you speak and speak build trust and de-escalate any situation.  Remember, you often times make things worse when you try to justify yourself.  Instead, take the role of a student and draw out the situation, explore everyone's ideas, and build consensus around solutions.

2. Take note of situations where you find yourself getting frustrated.

Frustration nearly always leads to bad outcomes.  Remember, it's OK to say, "let's take a quick break" if you need a moment.  Getting a drink of water is usually just about the right amount of time time cool down.

3. Determine what’s bothering you.

Being able to identify the source of your distress helps clear your head and leads to a solution. Listen to your inner voice and try to understand why you’re frustrated.

4. Act or wait

After identifying the problem, determine whether or not you can do anything about it.

5. Be honest

If you can’t do anything about the problem at hand, be honest with others. Consider mentioning the situation to the person who’s expressing frustration, and reserve your comments for appropriate settings. Don’t dismiss the person, but be clear that you want a productive meeting. This will likely improve your working relationship.

Don’t Make a Big Deal Out of the Incident

If things go sideways in your meeting, don't overreact.  React appropriately and keep your cool.  Long after everyone has forgotten what you said, they'll remember how you made them feel with your response.  Instill confidence in your listeners with a calm, thoughtful acknowledgement of what was said and then try to move on with the meeting.  

Remind Everyone of the Purpose of the Meeting 

As you contemplate a project’s details or revisit a previous decision, remind everyone in the meeting of the purpose of the project so you can align your team with that purpose.

Hopefully your purpose is inspiring.  Use this purpose to help employees discussions and debate ideas central to your purpose.

Do not stifle the voice of dissent during debate. During the discussion phase of each project, be as inclusive as possible. Allow the voices of dissent to be heard.

Consider what these dissenting voices have to say – and at all times, come to your own conclusions. Stifling divergent opinions quickly leads to stagnation and gridlock that can kill initiatives.

Use “speed with simplicity” as your mantra. When you focus on speed and consolidation, there are bound to be redundancies, dupes, or otherwise inefficient processes, eliminate them.

Even though you are focusing on speed, avoid the habit of bundling these inefficient and unnecessary elements together in a process. Take a step back and look at how these various elements can be distilled down to the fewest, essential steps. Always strive for speed with simplicity.


As weve said before, meetings are made, not born. Having the skill to handle the unexpected will help you run a better meeting, and, in fact, it will make you a better public speaker in general.

By knowing how to deal with the unexpected youll be able to keep your cool and focus on the assigned task at hand without being distracted by silly mistakes and embarrassing situations. While its impossible to cover every single possible situation youll ever run into in a meeting, its important to know that the way you deal with situations like these will have a direct impact on peoples performance in the meeting and on how you will be viewed as a leader.

Since a meeting is a group event, a little self-awareness and a big dose of self-control will go a long way towards helping you navigate the meeting hallways more confidently. My mantra is,Nothing clears the mind, and eases the tension, like laughter. If youre able to chuckle things off as you go, youll be a better leader.


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