Cameron Herold hates boring meetings. The author and speaker, who also runs the COO Alliance, wants to change how meetings are held to make them more productive. He even wrote a book on the subject called Meetings Suck: Turning One of the Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable.

In my corporate life before writing full-time, I spent 6-8 hours or more per day in meetings. I know, purgatory! I led many of the meetings with a team of around 50 people, but I wasn't always a whiz. I made some of the mistakes Herold outlines in the book, specifically the one about using an agenda to keep things moving.

I asked him recently for some extra tips about how to make a meeting much more valuable to everyone involved (particularly the person leading the meeting).

What are three things people do wrong in meetings?

If you're organizing a meeting, the first thing you should ask yourself is: "Does everyone need to be here?" I've seen people invite far too many people to meetings, turning it into a group hug, when they should actually only invite the most critically needed people. This enables non-invitees to keep working on their most important projects.

Next, I've witnessed people make meetings way too long. In general, meetings and obligations tend to fill the space you give them. Estimate how long you think a meeting (or task in a meeting) will take, and then cut it in half. By limiting the time, you increase your productivity, maximize efficiency, and implement a more highly profitable system of time management.

Finally, meetings without an agenda incite confusion and time loss. Every meeting must have a clear agenda distributed to attendees in advance. If you skip creating an agenda, then your meetings can quickly go off track, get hijacked by a random topic, or include people who shouldn't be attending.

I've found that without an agenda guiding the discussion, it's also common for attendees to ramble, engage in simultaneous side-conversations, or devolve into catcalling--all outcomes detrimental to taking your company to the next level.

However, by taking the time to plan, prepare, and distribute an agenda before the meeting, you will reap considerable benefits.

What is one big change that will make meetings better?

End meetings five minutes earlier than you intended to. Doing so allows you to show up to your next meeting, phone call, or other engagement on time. If you're not five minutes early, you're late. I also recommend carrying forward this concept of ending what you're working on five minutes early when you're in charge of a meeting. It's a bit unusual, but ending the meeting five minutes early gives you and your team time to transition to the next meeting or activity.

It is said that $37B is spent on meetings a year in the US. Do you agree with this number and what can be done?

$36B is likely a measure of cumulative salaries wasted in meetings a year. If you estimate that one hour a day is spent in meeting and that 50% of employees are showing up when it's not vital, then 1/8th of a company's total salaries are being wasted also. These are huge numbers. There are numerous ways not fall victim to this loss. As mentioned, only inviting key players is key. There are many additional things we can be doing to streamline meetings, and I offer several ideas in my book. With meetings being so expensive, doesn't it make sense to make sure we are doing them right?

Why do people run bad meetings?

People run meetings poorly for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is because they haven't had proper training. We aren't training or equipping our people with the right skills and tools to run effective meetings. It's like sending your kid into a Little League game without ever giving him a glove and playing catch in the backyard or teaching him how to swing a bat, how to slide into second base to avoid a tag, or even the basic rules of how to play the game. Throwing your child into a game without any preparation will only lead to an embarrassment of errors and his hatred for the experience.

And yet, that's essentially what we do with our employees when we send them into meetings without training them. Too often, business leaders complain that their teams hate meetings, while failing to look in the mirror and ask: Why? And the answer is that the onus falls on the leaders to teach the employees how to run and participate in a meeting.

Otherwise, it's like a parent blaming the game of baseball for why their child hates Little League. It's not the game of baseball that's to blame, it's the parent. And the same idea applies to business meetings.

How do you get people to change and do meetings better?

It all comes down to starting at the top. If you teach C-Level and VPs first, ideas and best practices for leading and participating in meetings will trickle down layer by layer until it becomes the norm. And it is crucial to coach your team on running effective meetings. When subordinates can successfully manage meetings, then CEOs, their C-suite officers, and other leaders in the company will have the time and freedom to focus on higher-level initiatives. This is crucial. Time and freedom to hone in on the highest-priority tasks isn't a mere luxury; it's a necessity if a business is to expand and fulfill its potential.

Published on: Jul 20, 2016
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