9 Tips for Shorter, Better Meetings
Too many business meetings are utter wastes of time. People drone on and on and little is accomplished, other than the avoidance of actual, productive work. Here are a set of simple rules to keep your meetings brief and to the point.
1. All meetings must have a concrete, measurable goal.
The only reason to have a meeting is to discuss an issue and come to a decision about next steps. If you can't pinpoint why you're calling the meeting, don't call one.
2. All meetings must have a "focusing agenda."
The agenda should consist of the goal, followed by a few (no more than 7) questions that move from the general to the specific.
3. No meetings are to be longer than one hour.
An hour is about as long as most people can focus on a single subject, which is why most college classes are only an hour long. (This rule is easy if you follow the other rules.)
4. All background is to be available a day prior.
Presumably everybody at the meeting can read, so there's no reason to go over material that can be quickly skimmed and absorbed.
5. Latecomers will not be briefed on what's been said.
It's rude to force meeting-goers to backtrack over material that's already been covered. If the latecomer absolutely must be present, postpone the meeting.
6. There will be no smartphones/tablets/laptops.
This rule provides a HUGE incentive to EVERYONE to wrap up the meeting quickly. Need to take notes? Use paper and pencil.
7. There will be no formal presentations.
If the purpose of the meeting is to discuss information that's in a presentation, the presentation (with notes) should be distributed and read beforehand.
8. "Group writing" sessions are strictly forbidden.
In a world of shared documents and "review mode" there's no reason people should be sitting down to "craft" a document. Group writing always results in crap anyway.
9. Meeting results will be documented and distributed.
The reason here is to hold the person who called the meeting accountable for achieving (or failing to achieve) that meeting's concrete, measurable goal.
If you think the rules above are impractical, try them for two weeks. Break your addiction to pointless meetings and you'll be surprised how much real work gets done.
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GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.