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“Meetings are the single point of difference between a project that fails and one that excels.”
Meghan Keaney Anderson, VP of Marketing, HubSpot
Meetings are vital to get a team to a productive state. Yet, most everyone who experiences meetings finds them at the least inefficient. To give you an in-depth overview and practical tips on how to optimize your meetings, we went through a number of guidelines and distilled 17 useful recommendations. We hope you will enjoy reading about them as much as we have enjoyed putting together this summary.
Let’s start with a few facts about meetings:
- In Elon Musk’s latest public email to Tesla employees, 3 out of 7 of his productivity recommendations were related to meetings
- On average, employed people spend 5.5 hours each week in meetings and there are 11 million meetings per day in the US
- Every week, employees participate in 6–10 meetings while managers and executives attend 13–15 meetings
- Approximately 50–60% of meeting time is perceived as wasted
- 71% of senior managers reported that meetings “aren’t very productive”
- 39% of people attending a meeting doze off
All this costs the US $37 billion per year. Meetings are ranked as the number one office productivity killer. Just imagine the gains you can achieve if you and your colleagues become even 1% or 5% better at meetings over time.
“A small productivity gain, compounded over 50 years, is worth a lot. So it’s worth figuring out how to optimize productivity. If you get 10% more done and 1% better every day compared to someone else, the compounded difference is massive.”
Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator
Here are the magic tips that will make you a Meeting Jedi and help to win the endless struggle with meetings.
Before a meeting
1. Define a clear goal for the meeting. Think as a company owner — is the meeting the most beneficial way for the company to solve an issue? What outcomes do you expect from the meeting?
- If you need feedback or help, make that happen before a standing meeting. Communicate with people one-on-one about the decision before the meeting occurs.
- Try to call, email, or have a quick visit before or instead of the meeting and clarify your exact questions and what decisions are feasible. Two short one-on-one meetings are better than one longer one with three participants.
- It is more efficient to have multiple short meetings that are really focused on one topic than long meetings that cover totally different topics.
- Meetings are a helpful way to share sensitive information with everyone and verbally answer questions to prevent misunderstandings and repetition.
Philosophical clue: A meeting often serves as a way to relay responsibility when one is afraid of making a decision and is looking for support. Instead, ask for an opinion, make the decision, and move on!
2. Limit the number of attendees at the meeting. Identify exactly what do you need from each of the participants during a meeting: information, advice, decisions, support, motivation, ideas.
- “Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get rid of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.” Elon Musk
- Use Amazon’s “two-pizza rule.” Never have a meeting with more people than can be fed by two pizzas.
- Include key people from the departments whom you’re certain will be affected by your meeting. If you have any doubts, check the list of potential attendees with your boss or mentor.
- If you are an invited participant and it seems that you’re not essential to the meeting and your time could be better spent elsewhere, try this
Useful Quote: “Thanks for the invite, but I’m not sure I’m needed for this. If I’m wrong, let me know.”
3. Schedule meetings well in advance — whenever possible, at least a week ahead and at the time of day that best suits everyone involved. Do make sure it does suit everyone.
- The best times are traditionally between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
- If you are an invited participant, remember that your overbooked calendar doesn’t make you important and shouldn’t postpone decisions. Proactively suggest how to prevent the avoidance of decision-making and facilitate the process.
4. Choose a place and a format suitable for all participants: in person, on the phone, or via web conference.
- Be familiar with the location, capacity, and installed equipment for all potential meeting rooms in the building and the suitable communication channels or software.
- Test as much as you can before the meeting: the projector, the laptop, the cables, the camera, the speakers, the microphone, the software (Zoom, Skype, Hangouts, etc.).
- Be sure that bottled water and, in case of a long meeting, snacks like peanuts or cookies are available.
- Arrange the seating so that all the participants are facing you and can see each other and whatever whiteboards or screens you’ll use.
- If you are an invited participant, be sure you know where the meeting room is.
Philosophical clue: “If something can go wrong, it will.” Murphy’s Law
5. Choose the right time to start, project the meeting’s length, and arrange it in advance.
- Cut the time of all meetings in half.
- “I find most meetings are best scheduled for 15–20 minutes, or 2 hours. The default of 1 hour is usually wrong, and leads to a lot of wasted time.”
- “Get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.” Elon Musk
6. Prepare a good agenda: who will attend, what will be discussed and accomplished (suggest options for feasible decisions), and the information that needs to be supplied or prepared for the meeting.
- Distribute the agenda and supporting materials in advance.
- Create a meeting template for frequently held meetings, such as a weekly status meeting on a project.
- If you are an invited participant but don’t see an agenda, try these
Useful Quotes:“I saw your meeting invite but before I accept, would you mind providing an agenda?”
“Can you please send me an agenda for the meeting so that I can prepare?”
7. Check whether everyone is prepared and ready in advance (“in advance” seems to be an important word, isn’t it? 😉 ).
- The day or even the hour before the meeting, clarify whether the key participants have had time to review everything they need. It would be great to solve as many stumbling blocks as possible in advance one-on-one discussions.
- Verbally rehearse introductions and possible answers to the main topics.
- If you are an invited participant, look up any unfamiliar names in your organization’s directory (or on LinkedIn).
During a meeting
8. Start and finish meetings on time.
- Arrive early at the meeting: at least 5 minutes for in-person meetings and 1–2 minutes for conference calls.
- If one of the key participants is late or absent, check whether it is feasible to adjust the agenda accordingly. Better to postpone the meeting for another time than to wait long for one person.
9. Make a good start.
- Start the meeting by stating the goal of the meeting.
Useful Quote: “We need a decision on whether to pursue option A or B.”
- Start each meeting with a quick roundtable feedback session on individual successes of the week or since the last meeting. Acknowledge and celebrate every success as well as the learning experience from a failure.
- Briefly discuss the to-do list from the previous meeting.
10. Keep everyone in the loop and engaged. It’s a fascinating thing when everyone in a room is really present. It’s infectious.
- Have your most current agenda visible during the meeting. Put it up on a screen or whiteboard.
- No laptops — they distract, create a barrier, and prevent eye contact with the speaker.
- No phones either. At most, phones should only be used with a relevant note-taking app running, like reason8.ai.
- No buzzing, no slacking, no anxiety-spiking prompts to take your head out of the game.
11. Make sure everyone gets a voice at the table.
- Reach out to quieter or more reserved attendees ahead of time to get their opinions on the proposed subject matter and permission to bring up their points of view in the meeting if necessary.
- Be inclusive and call out people monopolizing the conversation.
“Who can tell us what an X is?”
“Jim, you had an experience with this recently — what was that like?”
“I’d like to hear from Jane (the quiet person) on the subject at hand.”
“We appreciate your contributions, but now we need input from others before making a decision.”
12. Every meeting must have a single owner, so manage the discussion wisely.
- Avoid personal comments and attacks.
- Only one conversation at a time.
- We were born with two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. With that in mind, meetings will go twice as quickly.
- Take 5–10 minute stretch breaks every hour for meetings that go longer than one hour. Keep people engaged with snacks.
- “Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave — it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.” Elon Musk
Philosophical clue: “A meeting consists of a group of people who have little to say — until after the meeting.” P.K. Shaw
13. Keep the conversation on track according to the agenda topics and time limits.
“That was funny, but let’s stay on track here. We’re discussing the… ”
“That’s a great discussion, but we should take that offline and get back to making a decision on X, Y, or Z.”
14. Use the parking lot to finish complex meetings on time.
Hands-on tip: When someone raises an interesting point that does not relate to the agenda try this
Useful Quote: “Thank you for that point, Jim. However, X goes beyond the purpose of this meeting. Let’s put that item in the parking lot and I will include it in the meeting minutes that I will send out by email so we can explore that point at the right time.”
15. Use software to keep notes and save information from your meetings.
Hands-on tip: Use special software like reason8.ai or designate one person to take notes during the meeting in order to maintain full focus and still have great notes after a meeting.
Philosophical clue: “Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events.” Albert Einstein
16. Make a good finish.
- Summarize all decisions and tasks. Be sure that any task has person responsible for it and a deadline or a clear way to figure it out.
- Ask people for confirmation in their own words: did they really get what you meant?
- Schedule a follow-up meeting if required.
- Leave five minutes of quiet time at the end for everyone to document and plan the action steps they need to take after the meeting.
After a meeting
17. Create meeting minutes within twenty-four hours of the meeting and send them to the participants and all relevant people.
- Create a meeting template or use advanced software with AI, like reason8.ai, for creating meeting minutes instantly.
- Note who participated and what decisions were made — every decision should have a follow-up task.
- Clearly note action items, each of which has one owner and a due date or a clear way to figure one out.
- Add details and timing of the next meeting if it is required.
Philosophical clue: “No meeting minutes — no meeting done.”
Vlad Belyaev, Co-founder & CEO, reason8.ai
“ In psychiatry, the first one who puts on a white coat — is the doctor.
In business, the first who sends meeting minutes — that one is right.” Best Business Practices
Thanks for reading! You are very welcome to share your experiences running great meetings in the comments.
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