I have spent the better part of my daytime career in meetings, and I am no better for it. If people were compensated by how effective their meetings are, most would be living in cardboard boxes or in a van down by the river. Even worse, most people don’t seem to care that the way they run meetings sucks.
When I was at Ford, we determined that our division lost upwards of $50k a day on poorly run meetings. We changed that with intensive training and some simple rules. I have learned a few things along the way, so allow me to share (in my usual snarky way)…
- Have an agenda. I recently got back to this. You don’t have write War and Peace – just a line or two about what the meeting is about. Are you driving for a decision? Then state that.
- Start and end on time. People eventually get the idea that you are being effective. I never start more than two minutes after the scheduled time. Sorry dude, that’s just how I roll. Either be there or not – but this train is rolling out of the station. Starting and ending on time is showing respect to people.
- Don’t stop to catch someone up. That just burns time. If that person needs to know what they missed, talk to them one-on-one later.
- If you don’t have the right people in the meeting – then kill the meeting. If someone says, “We really can’t do it without Joan’s input,” then say you’ll reschedule with Joan. Corollary: Invite the right people to the call to begin with. Don’t invite the whole world. Invite the minimum number of folks needed to meet the objectives of the call/meeting.
- Don’t read your PowerPoint deck. It is hard to believe, but most of the people on the call attended school and can read (though sometimes that is questionable with senior leadership.) Your slides should reinforce what you have to say. And the fewer slides, the better.
- Document the decision or summary of the meeting. One sentence can do it.
- Silence does not mean agreement. Whoever the idiot was that first said, “If you’re silent I assume you’re agreeing,” clearly doesn’t understand people. Sometimes I am quiet because I can’t think of non-swear words to convey my shock and awe at the raw stupidity of what I have just been told.
- Engage everyone. If you invited people to the call you must want to know what they think. If they are being quiet, ask them what their perspective is.
- Facilitate your meeting. There are some people who are just blowhards. They babble on-and-on just to wear out everyone else. Keep the meeting on point. Feel free to time-box discussions. “We’re going to allow 15 minutes for debate on this subject.” Personally, I like cutting people off when they are on some rambling tangent – but I’m partially evil.
- Acknowledge people’s contributions. “Thanks Stephanie – that was a good point you raised.”
- Schedule your call for the smallest amount of time necessary. We’re all busy. Don’t schedule an hour for something that should take 20 minutes just because you’re paranoid that Mary is going to pontificate her perspective. Surprisingly you can get most things done in the time you allot if you run your meeting right.
- If you check that phone one more time I will break your fingers. You’re not in the meeting to play with your phone. Shut it off or stuff it in your pocket.
Most of this stuff falls into the category of, “common sense,” but let’s face it, that is a rare commodity in most offices. Share this with the guiltier members in your team. There’s a chance they will get a clue and even if they adopt two of these suggestions, you’re ahead of the game.
Want more snarky ideas for work? Check out my book – Corporate Rules – The Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords.