meeting table
© 2014 ClipArt Best – First 5 Nevada County Parent Leadership Group

by Nadine Bell

Have you ever led a meeting where a participant introduced an idea that was off topic? At a recent meeting I facilitated, I asked a participant whose comment was off topic what prompted her to share it at this time. She said, “I was afraid I’d forget it if I didn't share it then.”

While there are many reasons meeting participants change the focus of the conversation, meeting leaders and facilitators have the responsibility to:

  • Keep the discussion on topic.
  • Provide participants a time and place to share these off topic ideas, questions and comments.

For many years I used a Parking Lot, a flip chart with the drawing of a car on which participants place Post-its® with the off-topic things that were important to them.

Five years ago I was assessing candidates at a Certified Professional Facilitator Assessment event. A candidate said that he invites participants to put their comments on Post-its and place the Post-its on a flip chart of a refrigerator. He explained that they place the ideas in the refrigerator to keep them fresh.

I asked myself, “Where do I want my groups’ ideas? Baking in the sun in the back 40 or staying fresh in the refrigerator?” The answer was an easy one, and I have used the refrigerator ever since.

orchid |

When I am facilitating a short meeting, we look at the refrigerator before the meeting is over. If the ideas can be handled quickly, we do so. If not, we determine how they will be addressed before the next meeting or put them on the agenda for the next meeting. If the meeting is a half a day or longer, we review Post-its on the refrigerator at breaks, before lunch and at the end of the meeting to determine how and when they will be addressed.


Don't Let Off-Topic Comments Sabotage Your Meetings

2 thoughts on “Don’t Let Off-Topic Comments Sabotage Your Meetings

  • November 22, 2019 at 2:05 am

    If the comments are just an endless argument about the post rather than a tangential off-topic discussion, we have a policy of leaving a comment asking the poster if there’s anything in the comments that they’d like to incorporate into their question or answer before the discussion’s cleaned up. Some do, some don’t, but we advise those who disagree with the answer to post an answer of their own and use downvotes and usually prune the discussion down to at least the basic points made.

    • March 21, 2022 at 3:45 pm

      Thanks. Our site has been idle for some time and I’m just now seeing these repeated comments (likely spam.) We are redoing the whole website and will soon be “back in business” and paying attention! I can’t believe it’s been over two years since your kind advice! Oh well, COVID led to deep depression that has only lifted this past couple of weeks (at last).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.