Meetings are the bane of the business world. According to an oft-quoted figure, the average executive spends 23 hours a week in meetings but (averages being averages) there must be a million executives who spend twice that amount.
Similarly, there must be some executives who spend much less time in meetings than their industry peers. It won't surprise you to learn that these meeting-savvy executives include some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs.
Elon Musk, for example, is famous for eschewing large or long meetings and tells employees to leave meetings or calls where they can't add value. Similarly, Mark Cuban refuses to attend any meetings at all (other than on Shark Tank), preferring to conduct business almost entirely by email.
However, the best idea for reducing time spent in meetings comes from two other entrepreneurs: Jeff Bezos and Jack Dorsey. I don't know whether they came up with this idea independently, or if it's a technique they both borrowed from some business guru, but it's both simple and brilliant.
Here it is: Replace your PowerPoint presentations with fully-written-out, hard-copy documents which attendees read, together and in silence, at the beginning of each meeting.
At first, the idea sounds a bit crazy. After all, if the meeting organizer has prepared a briefing document, why can't attendees read it prior to the meeting?
Answer: they can read it but they don't or won't. That's just reality. And in those rare cases where attendees do read a briefing document, they've probably forgotten what was in it by the time the meeting actually rolls around.
By contrast, a group reading at a meeting's start has three huge advantages:
- Greater clarity. A hard-copy document forces the meeting organizer to think the idea or issue through, and then express it as fully and clearly as possible. That's not the case with PowerPoints, which tend to be either unintentionally baffling (as in diagrams with dozens of boxes and acronyms) or intentionally vague (as in "you can't pin Jell-O to the wall.")
- More momentum. A hard-copy document ensures that, when the discussion starts, everybody is literally on the same page. Not so with PowerPoints, which frequently meander as attendees discuss the initial slides before getting fully up-to-speed. Which typically doesn't happen until the end of the presentation, of course.
- Faster communication. The average literate adult can closely read about a page a minute. A PowerPoint presentation containing the same material could easily take five times longer because the information unfolds, not at the speed that we read, but at the speed the presenter speaks.
Starting a meeting with a group reading means not just shorter meetings but also better and faster decisions resulting from those meeting. Better and faster decisions, of course, mean there will be less need for further meetings, which may be one reason behind Amazon's and Twitter's continuing success.