Making Meetings More Effective and Enjoyable

By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP

“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” — John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian-American economist.

As we can all attest, business meetings often waste valuable productive time and tend to last far longer than they should. But until we learn to communicate telepathically, they will remain a necessary evil—not just as a means of exchanging ideas and information—but also as a way of building relationships with others.

That doesn’t mean we have to like them.

In fact, as economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell once quipped, “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” Whether he meant it facetiously or not, there’s a grain of truth in Sowell’s statement, since someone who enjoys meetings might actually prolong them and anything else they laid their hands on. It’s no wonder meetings are described as the place “where minutes are taken and hours are wasted.”

Easing Inevitability

You may never learn to enjoy meetings, but you can certainly make them more tolerable with these tips:

1. Decide whether the meeting is even necessary. You may discover you can handle the issue with a few emails or a conference call. Why call a full meeting if you don’t need one?

2. Use online scheduling for outside parties. I’m a big fan of Doodle.com, an online polling tool that allows people who don’t work at the same company to find a good day and time to meet. After you create a poll, Doodle emails the link to your participants. Participants indicate their availability, and the organizer chooses the final slot based upon the votes. Doodle eliminates those inefficient email chains!

3. Get started on time. If people don’t arrive on time, start without them. Begin the meeting when you agreed, to respect the time of those who did show up on time. Don’t start over when individuals arrive late, effectively rewarding them for their tardiness. People can check the minutes later to find out what you discussed before they arrived or get notes from a colleague.

4. Use a facilitator. Have someone direct the meeting if it will be long or complex, with many issues to discuss. Their role should include keeping the discussion on topic, acknowledging speakers, soliciting the opinions of the quieter attendees, and keeping a few people from dominating the meeting. They should also be in charge of starting and ending the meeting on time.

5. Change the venue. You don’t necessarily have to conduct your meeting in a corporate conference room. You may be able to achieve a much more relaxed, open atmosphere by holding your meeting over coffee at the local Starbucks. There’s no reason to remain tied to your office, and a venue change may make the attendees more creative.

6. Provide food. People feel better when there’s something to munch on during a meeting. Those who are counting calories will appreciate having fruit and vegetables available instead of just bagels and donuts.

7. Make the agenda crystal clear. People need to know why they’re meeting and what you expect to accomplish as a result. Distribute the agenda and associated materials at least 24 hours in advance, preferably 72. At the end of the meeting, have someone distribute the minutes, which should list what decisions were made, who is responsible for what, by when. Rather than invite too many people, send the minutes to those who might be interested but don’t have an integral part in the meeting.

8. Schedule breaks for long meetings. This will allow people to take care of biological needs, check their phones, and stretch their legs. A good rule of thumb is a 5-10 minute break per hour. In seminars, I never go longer than 90 minutes without getting people up for a break.

The Bottom Line

You may have noticed that I didn’t suggest an icebreaker activity to increase the meeting’s “fun quotient.” Icebreakers take up valuable time, and routine meetings aren’t supposed to be fun—just necessary. If you’re having an off-site retreat or something more a-typical with “team building” as a goal, they might be appropriate.

While a business meeting may never be a blast, you can make them more effective and efficient if you’ll implement the eight points I’ve suggested here. What other protocols have you found to make meetings more efficient? What guidelines does your team follow to make them more effective?

© 2013 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, Certified Speaking Professional, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, her talks have helped professionals, leaders, and teams execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the author of five bestselling productivity books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, most recently What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do. Her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy, hits bookstores in spring 2014. Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured by the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect at http://www.theproductivitypro.com/; http://www.facebook.com/productivitypro; or http://www.twitter.com/laurastack.

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