Your Meetings Are Awful — Here’s How To Fix Them

4.28.14 Meetings

Story provided by Forbes – 

Let’s face it: most business meetings are awful. You were likely in one today you couldn’t wait to leave. Considering we spend so much of our professional lives in meetings, why are they still so bad?

The Real Cost of Meetings

Just how expensive are meetings? Let’s say you’re a startup with ten employees, the average salary is $100,000 a year, and the team spends 15% of their time in meetings—you have a $150,000 yearly line item expense there.  If you’re a Fortune 500 company with 5,000 employees with an average salary of $60,000, and they spend 25% of their time in meetings, that’s a $75 million annual line item expense.  How many of us are really getting a positive ROI from that human capital?

How You Know When You’re in a Horrible Meeting

If you find yourself or others saying, “I need to get some work done, ” you know your meeting is a failure. A meeting can deteriorate from boring presenters, sideways discussions, dragged-out presentations, confusing objectives, a disarray of opinions with no actions items, single-person-dominated discussions, too many participants, too little preparation or no meaningful follow-up.

It’s easy to spot awful meetings, but how do we fix them?

Know Why You’re Meeting

There are 3 types of meetings, and everyone attending (particularly the organizers and presenters) should be crystal clear of the intent.  Meetings should:

1. Solve a Problem

2. Communicate Information or

3. Brainstorm.

Most meetings go sideways because the people participating are unclear or mix up the intent.  Start off by communicating the purpose and staying focused.

Cheat Sheet for Making Meetings Work

Here’s a quick list of do’s and don’ts that will help transform your meetings:

1. What are we meeting about, what are we solving for? Even if it seems obvious or redundant, write it on the board to start the meeting and don’t let people get off track.

2. Cut meeting times in half. Turn hour-long meetings into half-hour ones, and 30 into 15-minute meetings.  If you need the extra time, you can add it back, but you won’t. Just because your calendar is in hourly increments, doesn’t mean your meetings need to be the same.

3. Turn off all devices (unless necessary to conduct the meeting). Focus people on the matter at hand, and get it solved quickly and without distraction. Fewer people will get distracted by their phones, which will reduce the number of disruptions by people needing to catch up.

4. Do not spend time reading a PowerPoint. Anything that can be put in writing should be prepared and circulated before the meeting.  Your participants presumably learned to read many years ago, so spend your time discussing key assumptions, action items and new ideas instead. If you do use a slideshow, follow these rules.

5. Start the meeting with more energy. If you’re leading the meeting it’s your responsibility to take a minute to make sure everyone is excited and energetic.  Simply starting off a meeting with everyone smiling is one of the most powerful ways to affect its outcome.

6. Stand. Agile meetings are done with participants standing. You’ll waste a lot less time, and have much more engaged participants if they can’t hide behind a computer.

7. If brainstorming, make sure you double the amount of time you’d typically allot. If communicating information, make sure you include the right amount of people – either too few or too many attendees drains your company’s resources. If problem solving, make sure you leave with clear action items and accountability for their execution.

8. All meetings need a moderator, but beware of an overbearing personality. Unless the purpose of the meeting is to communicate information, the moderator should be talking the least.

9. Follow my 15/50 Rule. When your company or team is in building or acquisition mode, meetings should be less than 15% of any workweek.  When your team is in planning mode, meetings should be 50% or more of the workweek, and you should power through without distraction until the planning is complete.

10. Participants often feel good in meetings if they all get to contribute, have equal airtime and get positive affirmation from the group.  But that’s a falsehood of a good meeting. A meeting is valuable if it effectively communicated information, solved a known problem, came up with an idea or sourced an unknown opportunity or challenge.

11. The cancer of (problem-solving) meetings is spending time talking about ideas, solutions or initiatives you know you won’t take action on. Participants may feel validated in the moment for getting their point of view heard, but if nothing changes over time people will become resentful and disengaged in future meetings. Keep your discussion focused on items you’ll act on.

12. Meetings are magnifiers. Any praise you give will mean a great deal more, and any criticism will be greatly amplified. Generally, save critiques for private sessions, and praise for group sessions. Most of all, beware of meetings where participants are blaming each other or are noticeably resentful. These feelings will spread across other members of the group and have disastrous, lasting effects.

13. Constantly survey your participants. Be diligent in doing postmortems. Ask them: What can be improved? What’s working? Were the next steps clear?


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