Most Meetings Stink...5 Tips For Making Yours Useful
I don't feel the need to persuade you that most meetings stink. I am confident that you have passed enough wasted hours in a meeting room to know that painful truth. Sadly, just last week I spent two hours in a confabulation that should have taken 20 minutes.
I am in the business of making simple what are complex issues. In that tradition, I have pinpointed two reasons why meetings stink: A) the convener does not know how to run a useful meeting; B) the convener likes being the convener so he milks the attention for all its worth.
Assuming that you do not fit in Category B - in which case you do not need to read further...instead go call a therapist - I offer some tried and useful tips for running a useful meeting.
1) Know the purpose of the meeting. As you prepare an agenda, jot down what you actually need to accomplish, especially the decisions that need to be made. If you don't have time to prepare for the meeting, you don't have time to convene it at all. Postpone the meeting until you are ready to make it useful. The regularly scheduled weekly meeting is particularly vulnerable to this booby trap. We often hold meetings simply because they are on the calendar, whether they are needed or not.
2) Don't use the occasion to grind an axe. If you are having a problem with someone in your organization, don't use the meeting as the venue for your frustration. It's the coward's way out, most tempting because we feel safer in a group. Confront the target of your disappointment directly; don't punish the gathered assembly.
3) Settle for nothing less than concise and focused participation. Announce politely at the beginning of the meeting that you value the time of all the members of the group. For that reason, you will intervene when comments are off point, long-winded, or unintelligible. For every one person you offend by the interruption, you will win a room full of grateful admirers.
4) Power corrupts; PowerPoint corrupts absolutely. Don't get me wrong, a PowerPoint can be an effective way to deliver content. All too often, however, people cannot resist the compulsion to add in unnecessary charts and data into their technical presentations. In my experience, it takes presenters twice as long on average to reach their final points using a PowerPoint as it would if they expressed them verbally. For that reason, if someone plans to present a PowerPoint in a meeting that I am chairing, I ask them to submit a copy to me in advance of the meeting so that I can review it. I am not afraid to give them editorial feedback how to slice and dice in order to save on meeting time.
5) Set a time limit and stick to it. Better yet, finish early. A friend offered me an insight years ago when my fiancée and I were planning our wedding, and it's stuck with me. She said, "No matter how much time you set aside for preparing your wedding, it will eat up every moment." Meetings have that same elastic quality; they will fill up whatever space that you make for them, and then some. Give each item of business it's appropriate time in a meeting, and no more. Finishing a meeting early is not a crime!
Wisdom dictates that you project the pace of each agenda item before the meeting begins. If an item of business unexpectedly mushrooms into a major dilemma, wall it off for later problem-solving outside the meeting. If the dilemma is mission-critical, on the other hand, jettison other agenda items that are inconsequential. Only in exceptional circumstances should you willy-nilly decide to go overtime. Treat everyone's time as valuable, and they will respect you for that attitude.
As strange as it may sound, I cannot ever recall a senior manager suggesting to me that his or her people waste too much time in inefficient meetings. But truth be known, few work practices eat away at the productivity of an organization.