There is a difference between your normal conversation and a productive exchange. The results tell the story. After a glass of wine and a chat, the group disperses without any obligations or next steps. After a productive exchange, at least one person in the group learns something that he or she can use.
This is why some lucky folks get paid to teach us how to run meetings. Meetings are supposed to offer the opportunity for productive exchanges – not just conversation. One tip — stolen from Steve jobs (see link above) — is to make sure that every agenda item for the meeting identifies who is directly responsible for moving the discussion forward. That person is the “DRI”. Nice.
This works when you can impose that obligation in an institutional setting. But what if you can’t?`What if you are the only one trying to get somewhere and everyone else has their own agenda? Welcome to the real world. In this setting, you need to be your own DRI for your own strategic needs.