We are all familiar with the characteristics of unproductive meetings. They are longer, and more of them are needed. We can start improving meetings by planning smartly. Ask, is this meeting really necessary? That’s the first and most important question. Why meet? There are three basic purposes for meetings: to provide information, to solve problems
or make decisions, and to brainstorm.
Calculate the cost of a meeting. Is it possible to serve your purpose in another way? Consider alternatives. For example, if your purpose is to convey information, such as news and reports, maybe email would be better.
Meet only if there’s a reason. That may seem obvious, but many meetings are “regular meetings”— every week or even every day—same time, same place, same old…. Regularity is not a reason for meeting.
Define your desired outcome: If you decide that a meeting is needed, you should also decide the length and timing of the meeting and whom to invite, how long it should take, and when to schedule it.
Tell people why they’ve been invited: Include in the meeting only people who need to be there. Then, tell each participant why you’re including him or her and what you’re expecting from each of them. As a result, participants will take greater responsibility in preparing and participating.
Ask participants to submit topics for the agenda: Get everyone involved. Your participants can often provide ideas you never thought of. This will give them a stake in the meeting and increase the probability that they will show up on time or early.
Limit the objectives of your meeting: Short, to-thepoint meetings are the most effective. Try to limit your meeting to one hour or less! The average person’s attention span is 60–90 minutes, yet the clear majority of meetings are longer than 90 minutes.
Determine the points to cover, how you will handle each, and how long each issue, main point, or topic should take. The next time you make your agenda, eliminate the lowest 20 percent of your agenda, and you might finish on time or early.
Have an agenda and distribute it early: A meeting without an agenda is a tip-off that the meeting is going to be a “bull session” and will run past its end time. Get your agenda out at least 24 hours ahead of time to give everyone plenty of time to organize their schedules so they can attend your meeting.
Use the “veggie” principle to organize your agenda: Cover the most important items on your agenda first. That way, if people are called away or you run out of time, it won’t matter as much because the important items on the agenda have already been covered. This will really help you finish the meeting on time.
Have a strict start and end time for your meeting: Make sure everyone understands the meeting is going to start on time and close the door at that specified time. Teach others to be respectful of your time and do the same for them in turn. Also, make sure your meeting finishes on time or allow them to leave if they have another commitment to get to.
When to schedule meetings: The purpose of the meeting dictates when to schedule it. Unless you are brainstorming on trying to make an important decision, try to schedule your meeting in the afternoon. Only schedule a morning meeting if it’s a “Veggie” where you need all of your participants “fresh.” Schedule staff meetings on Mondays, not Fridays, and avoid any same-day meeting.
“There is no best time to schedule an unnecessary meeting.”