One of the tricks to running an effective meeting is to control the “conversational popcorn” that seems to frequently creep into gatherings. Popcorn is when people interject topics outside of the agenda (or ignore that they are on the agenda later). The discussion bounces from one topic to another — making it hard to come to a resolution about one thing before moving on to the next.

As a convener, I’d much rather have spirited members who want to contribute their thoughts and ideas, rather than have the proverbial crickets of silence, but sometimes that passion plays out as popcorn and actually detracts from the message. Others become frustrated and tune out to what the enthusiast is trying to convey because of the off-topic manner in which they are saying it.

If you’re leading the meeting, try mightily to limit the amount of popcorn that takes you down rabbit holes or diverts you from the original business at hand. Utilize a “parking lot” to capture the topic for later, or firmly bring the group back to the agenda. And if you’re a meeting participant, be conscious of the time and place where you speak up. Save the popcorn for the movie theater.

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