How many meetings do you have in a week, or even in a day? If you’re like most people, you are probably involved in two or three meetings per day. Each one taking around one to two hours of your time. How much time in each of these meetings do you think is spent on the details, on what the meeting was called for in the first place? Not much, maybe twenty to thirty minutes! So what happens to the rest of the time? Firstly, a meeting rarely starts on time, so there’s about 10 minutes lost. There’s the introductions and laid back chit-chat at the beginning that might last for 10 to 15 minutes. Sidetracks and tangents happen about 5 or 6 times per meeting and can last a few minutes each (or take over the meeting if you’re not careful). Banter and jokes to make sure people are still paying attention takes up more time. And finally, there’s the thank-you’s and good bye’s at the end that might take another 5 to 10 minutes. In the time that’s left, you have to power through as much content and questions as you had originally planned for the full time the meeting was scheduled for. Oh, and let’s not forget how long your travel time to and from the meeting takes. That’s a huge consideration. If you have to go out for a meeting that’s scheduled for say two hours, you should probably block out at least four hours in your calendar right away – your travel time will be about an hour either side to be safe! It all seems like so much wasted time! Here are seven tips to help you cut your meeting times in half and be more productive!
1. Prepare an Agenda
The old say rings true – “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.” Without an agenda the meeting can very easily go off course and you can end up discussing last night’s game instead of what you expected (unless you’re in the sports industry, in which case last night’s game might be ok). Make an agenda. Think about why you want to have this meeting in the first place. Then write about 5 points on what you want to discuss. Each agenda item should be very strategic. Each should lead to an outcome, or an action to be done by someone. Always make sure that whoever you’re meeting with know about the agenda in advance. Send it to them in an email after you’ve discussed it with them in person or over the phone. This way they can prepare whatever they need to before the meeting and make sure the right people are involved, saving everyone’s time. If you’ve been invited to someone else’s meeting, ask them to give you an agenda. If they don’t (or even if they do), make sure you have your own one prepared anyway and keep it in your pocket for when the meeting starts to go of course.
2. Don’t Travel
GoToMeeting has HD video! Share your face, view others and share a presentation all at the same time… without leaving your desk! Oh, and it has audio capabilities. So you can save on your phone bill too!
Travel time is dead time, so just don’t do it. Use an online meeting tool like GoToMeeting to host your meeting online. You get the same feel, response and engagement as you would in a face to face meeting, without needing to spend time getting to and from the meeting and you can avoid the horrible smell someone might have walked in with. While a conference call can achieve a lot of what an online meeting can, you can’t gauge someone’s engagement with phone only. Since everyone has a webcam now, and many boardrooms have them too, have everyone switch on their camera’s and it’ll be just like you’re all together. If you’ve never tried an online meeting, now’s your chance – get a free 30 day trial of GoToMeeting and experience the productivity gain. I’ve used GoToMeeting for years now and I get so much more done, I almost have too much time left over! Instead of spending time driving, or in a taxi getting to and from your meeting, use the time to prepare, review and revise afterwards. Also, only you (the host) will need an account with GoToMeeting to use it. Attendees can join your meetings at no cost and it only takes a minute for them to get started and join.
3. Start on Time
Meetings rarely start on time. People have now come to expect that they have some time “up their sleeve” before the meeting really starts. It’s time to change that thinking. Start your meeting at the time you said it would start. If people want to spend their time chatting about their personal lives, tell them to come early, especially if the meeting has a number of people involved – you don’t want yours or anyone else’s time wasted. Meetings that start late tend to finish late. This cuts into everyone’s schedule and doesn’t make anyone look good. Once you make starting your meetings on time a habit, you’ll find people start to respect your time a lot more and will turn up ready to meet at or before the scheduled time.
4. End on Time
Book other appointments, like phone calls, right after a meeting is scheduled to end. When you start, or get to the meeting, tell everyone that you have another appointment that you can’t miss straight after the meeting. This way you’re more likely to get through the agenda and keep the meeting on track. You might even finish early and get to say goodbye!
5. Keep It Short
Let’s be realistic for a minute. No one likes meetings. No one. They’re long, boring, not of interest to you personally and generally they’re un-engaging. Keep the meeting short and keep it moving. One hour should be about the longest meeting you should have. If you find that one of your agenda items starts to take over the meeting, that’s a big sign that it needs more attention than you thought. Stop the discussion, explain that this particular topic needs some more attention and immediately schedule a separate meeting, for an hour, to discuss it. Then move on to the next item on the agenda.
6. Ban Distractions
Admit it. We’ve all done it. We’ve all reached for our iPhones, Androids or Blackberry’s or whatever while in a meeting. And as soon as your finger touches the screen you tune out to anything that is being presented or discussed. If you do this, please, don’t. Chances are you’ll later ask a question that has already been answered while you playing on your phone and will need it explained to you again anyway, hence wasting everyone’s time and drawing out the meeting. If you’re hosting the meeting, place a large bowl in the middle of the table with a label on it that says ‘Distractions’. Kindly ask that in the interest of time, you’d like everyone, including yourself, to drop their phone into the bowl at the beginning of the meeting. Explain that you’ll be able to get through a lot more with everyone if this is done. If anyone refuses, tell them your Tourette’s kicks in when you see the tops of people’s heads.
7. Know The Outcome in Advance
When you set your agenda, you should have a good idea of what you expect to get out of the meeting. It could be that you’ve learnt something. Or it could be that you need to find out something, or maybe someone else does. In any case, you should know what will come out of the meeting. Each of the agenda items should relate to an action that you, or someone else should take. It is incredibly important that these outcomes, or actions, are noted and agreed by everyone. The trick is to know the outcome, but to get to them in a collaborative way so that it “looks” like it was an action decided by the group. Meetings are like a game of chess – you have to know how it’s going to end as soon as you sit down to play. Know how to flow from one idea to another and keep the conversation on track by relating everything back to the agenda.
Have you experienced long, laborious meetings? What are some ways you keep meetings to the minimum?