How To Have Fewer And Shorter, But More Effective Meetings

“Let’s increase the number of meetings we have and the time we spend in them,” said no-one, ever. Yet the scariest business statistic that’s been shared so far this year (published in a Harris Poll) is that employee time spent in meetings each week is up 14% from two years ago, with no corresponding increase in productivity or results. Let’s pray they’re effective meetings.

The same research went on to say that 8% of people would rather have root canal surgery than attend a status update meeting, and a further 17% would rather watch paint dry. We’re forced to conclude that these were probably not effective meetings and so that 14% increase really doesn’t make any sense.

At all.

If people hate attending meetings so much, why on earth are we spending so much time doing it? With this question ringing in our ears, the Blrt team decided to put together the ultimate guide to having better, shorter, fewer and more productive meetings.

Here's how to have fewer and shorter, but more effective #meetings. #productivity Click To Tweet

The road to effective meetings

1. Effective meetings start with a good meeting agenda

For a better meeting to occur, a written agenda must be shared at least one business day prior to the meeting.

This agenda should set out topics to be covered in the meeting, and the duration of discussion for each topic slot. It should also be accompanied by a list of defined outcomes (for example ‘update’; ‘discuss and debate’ or ‘decide’), which must be adhered to, within a designated time frame.

Effective #meetings start with an agenda written and distributed in advance. Click To Tweet
2. Add in the right people

In order for the meeting to be productive, get the right people in the room.

The right people aren’t just the people ‘in charge’. Rather, they’re a mix of people who can make decisions and people who can carry out the work associated with those decisions.

Ensure everyone’s got a role to play, and if they don’t, don’t invite them to the meeting in the first place. If someone who’s critical to the meeting can’t attend, cancel the meeting and reschedule it.

3. Make your meetings shorter.

How To Have Fewer And Shorter, But More Effective MeetingsThere’s a reason that most meetings are scheduled for an hour or a half an hour, and that’s because most calendars default to these durations. “But if we schedule an hour and finish early, we can just wrap the meeting up” we hear you claim. And that’s all very well in theory, but Parkinson’s Law states that a task will take at least as long as the time we schedule for it.

Try cutting down meeting time and seeing what happens. As urban legend would have it, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both ruthless about meeting duration, and you can’t really argue with the Apple and the Microsoft, right?

4. Effective meetings keep to time

Start the meeting bang on time, then set a timer and watch the clock to ensure each agenda item stays to time as well.

If something goes off track, take a note that it needs to be followed up, and move on to the next agenda item as soon as possible. If people are habitually late, try instituting a small reward, such as muffins or chocolates to those who arrive on time. If that doesn’t work, hit the last person to arrive with a small ‘punishment’ such as minuting the meeting, or assigning them the tasks no one wants.

If all else fails, close the meeting room door at the precise time it’s supposed to start and wire up a car battery to the handle (this suggestion may or may not be made as an attempt at humour).

5. Stay on your feet

How To Have Fewer And Shorter, But More Effective MeetingsIf practical, make some of your meetings standing or walking meetings.

When Stanford Business School professor Bob Sutton was co-writing the management book Hard Facts, he conducted a study that compared decisions made by 56 work teams who had stand-up meetings vs. 55 groups holding seated meetings. In all cases, the meetings were short—roughly 10 to 20 minutes. But in the stand-up meetings, groups took 34% less time making decisions, with no real difference in the quality of the decision.

Besides, it’s much, much harder to fall asleep in a meeting when you’re standing up.

6. Put up a parking lot

A parking lot is simply an area to note things down. It’s a useful device for capturing off topic, but important observations, ideas and thoughts, while not allowing the meeting to ramble.

These should be shared with the group in the minutes of the meeting and actions associated with these items should be assigned to meeting attendees by the chair of the meeting from which they resulted. If necessary, they should then be added to the agenda of any follow-up meetings.

7. Nix the PowerPoint

Add a presentation to the meeting and the engagement level goes waaaay down. A study by SalesCrunch found that when someone gets up and presents, doing most of the talking, meeting engagement levels among attendees go down to 78%, but if everyone in the meeting is talking, engagement levels go up to 92%.

So get a whiteboard instead, and get people actively engaged with the meeting so that all the best minds are working away on the challenges, which will help make meetings finish faster.

8. Try the five word rule

Christopher Frank, an author and VP at American Express, has some words of wisdom for those trying to answer the question: “What exactly are we meeting about?”

His suggestion is to take the ‘Twitter Approach’ and asking each person to articulate in five words or less the problem to be solved. If the answers are inconsistent or too long, your attendees are probably not focused on the same problem. This tactic also prevents people rambling, being overly subjective, and forces them to think hard about the issues at hand.

Tip for effective meetings: challenge participants to describe problems in five words or less. Click To Tweet
9. Conserve 10%

Ensure that 10% of the time allocated to any meeting is reserved for wrapping the meeting up, and agreeing and assigning the action items. This way, it won’t run over as you frantically try to assign the action items while people are walking out the door, and you’re not likely to sabotage the meeting’s chances of success by not gaining resolution and agreement from all parties.

10. Declare meeting-free time

How To Have Fewer And Shorter, But More Effective MeetingsTo help people wrest control of their diaries once more, suggest to your management team the implementation of a ‘no meetings Monday’ policy wherein they can set aside blocks of time to actually get things done. And along these lines, everyone should section off ‘work time’ slots in their diary on a daily basis, to give them windows of opportunity.

Say ‘No’ to meetings with Blrt

As our final piece of advice in the quest to have better, shorter, fewer and more effective meetings, learn when to say no.

If you’re invited to a meeting that doesn’t have a purpose and an agenda, it’s totally OK to insist upon those things before you accept. You don’t have to attend every meeting you’re invited to, if you don’t think a meeting is necessary, and there are great tools and solutions available that can eliminate the need for meeting in person, such as Blrt.

Get out of a meeting with a Blrt right now:

About Blrt

Blrt helps you get your point across quickly by allowing you to talk, point and draw over images, documents and websites. The resulting video-like recording is called a Blrt.

Your Blrts require much less bandwidth than video and can be shared with anyone on mobile or desktop. This makes Blrt ideal for both collaboration and the creation and sharing of dynamic content, as public Blrts can be embedded into any webpage.

Once recorded, Blrts are stored in the cloud and are exchanged with others in a conversation-like fashion. A record is kept of the exchange, and new parties and media can be added at any time.

Blrt shifts time and place, allowing users in a conversation to participate in their own time. In an era where activity-based working and distributed teams are commonplace, Blrt is revolutionising the way people interact to get things done.

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