How you can run effective meetings
Imagine a world where you are known as the person who knows how to run effective meetings. Where your work colleagues and staff actually want to attend your meetings.
There is a buzz about your meetings. They are events that people simply cannot afford to miss. And when someone does miss out, they hurt.
This is a world where you are the corporate rockstar and your meetings are your sellout concerts.
This may sound utopian, but hell yeah, why not? Work can be too serious too often, with meetings in the corporate word being the butt of many jokes.
Meetings are often synonymous with time wasting, achieving nothing, boredom, big-noting, arse-covering and pontification.
So let me break it down for you now. The what to do’s and not to do’s of meetings, with one condition;
I will focus on the not-so-obvious stuff. The stuff that may not necessarily be politically correct, but it will be effective, meaning you and your meeting management is effective.
Your key takeaways from this article will be
- Simple and subtle strategies for minimising meeting time and maximising meeting effectiveness
- How to avoid being caught in meetings that offer little value to either yourself or the other attendees
- Knowing when you just need to “suck it up” and proceed with a meeting
1. The best meetings are the ones that don’t happen
The first strategy is to avoid meetings as much as possible. Just don’t call them
Apply the “I grew up in a small town” rule where people just did a drop-by and visited each other.
No planning, no appointment necessary. You would drive by their place and if their car was in the driveway you would just pop-in and say Hi.
You were always welcomed.
Meaningful conversations and relationships were formed.
In the business world this can take the form of a 5-10 minute drop-by desk side conversation. The tea room or a nearby coffee shop also works, but they take more time, usually between 30mins-60mins, and your prospect may not have been able to afford that sort of unplanned interruption.
So why do it this way?
The best meetings are the ones where the decisions have been made before the meeting.
This requires one-on-one time so hustle the floor and make that happen. If this is done well, then (formal) meetings can often be avoided.
If you need to call everyone together to collectively endorse a decision or outwork a plan, the meeting should be faster and more effective, because 95% of the conversations have already been had.
So, don’t use meetings as the single path (aka shortcut) to a decision.
If you avoid calling meetings as your starting point, people will love you for it. Busy people like this outcome so don’t build your reputation as “that meeting guy/gal”.
People will begin to avoid you like the plague.
2. Keeping it Fresh
If you have locked in the decision to run a meeting, ensure your meetings are memorable (for the right reasons).
The functional stuff when preparing and running a meeting is well documented in this excellent article eg: set an agenda, define a purpose, keep to time, take minutes, assign actions, review actions etc.
These are the necessary but boring parts of organising and running a meeting.
To make a meeting truly effective and memorable, you need to step outside your comfort zone and consider spicing up your meetings with an x-factor or two.
I recommend you commit to trying and applying at least 5 of the suggested meeting boredom busters that you can download here for free……
These are actions you can take to make your meetings more engaging, and when people are engaged your meetings are more effective.
3. Less is More
When you are calling a meeting, apply the “traveling overseas” strategy. This is where I pack my suitcase, then I immediately re-pack it but commit to removing half of what I originally packed into the suitcase.
Do this with your meetings
Don’t default to a 1hr meeting. Can it be achieved in 30mins, or 45mins or some other portion of time?
Always challenge yourself to reduce the duration as this will really help you focus on the agenda, it will make you focus on driving the meeting quickly and efficiently, and it helps “re-frame” the invitees expectations of your meetings, and what meetings in general could be (should be) about.
If you are a meeting invitee, apply the same rule.
Theory in Practice
I was recently invited to a 1hr meeting to review a draft audit report about an area of my responsibility. I immediately rang the organiser and asked if she could make the meeting 30 minutes instead of 1 hour as I had already read the report was about to send her a copy of my notes and mark-ups, so 30 minutes should be plenty of time.
That three minute phone call regained 30 minutes of my working day, and the meeting actually finished ahead of time!
Another strategy to apply when you are a meeting invitee is to only attend for a portion of the intended duration. I recommend you target the second half of the meeting because the first half is usually the least effective half.
Meetings can often start late; we wait for the previous meeting to clear the room, we wait for people to arrive, there is some preamble chitchat, delays in getting PCs and projectors to communicate properly, a recap of actions from previous meetings, etc, before the actual agenda commences.
Avoid this meeting dead-time, but ensure you advise the organiser in advance of your planned late arrival.
I use the line, “I can attend your meeting but I have a prior commitment that will clash with the first <insert time> of your meeting”. I have never been challenged on this by the organiser when the call has been made or the drop-by conversation has been had.
Another strategy I use when I am organising a meeting, is to book a room that has another meeting booked immediately afterwards. This then forces the meeting to conclude at the designated time.
I particularly use this strategy when hosting external sales reps as they will use as much time as they possibly can with you, to “build the relationship”.
4. Meandering meetings
In accordance with Parkinson Law, people have a tendency to fill the allocated meeting time regardless of whether it is needed.
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion – Parkinsons Law
So delegate important stuff to busy people, and finish meetings early.
When you are a participant in what I call a meandering meeting, don’t sit there for the sake of it. Make sure your presence is short, sharp and to the point.
Contribute and listen, but once there is no significant value remaining in the meeting for you to give or receive, get up and leave.
WTF? Just get up and leave a meeting? What will people think? What if I miss out on something?
These are the questions that cripple us all, that keep us in drawn-out talk fests and that feed the meandering meeting beast. Take action and change something
5. How to (discretely) leave a meeting
- Always arrive early and take the seat nearest an exit. A rear exit (if it exists) is preferred but not essential
- Always “travel light” to a meeting….ensure you can quietly pack and go drawing as little attention as possible
Tactics to excuse yourself early from a meeting:
- Prior to the meeting commencing, advise the chairperson that you have a meeting clash and you need to get to that one at a certain time
- Pre-can a mobile phone call to arrive at a certain time. You can use the Ring My Phone app to do this. If using this method you must be able to collect your things quickly and quietly as you attend to this “important” call (see travel light above)
- Wait for a suitable time and just quietly leave. Amazingly, many meetings actually continue regardless of a single departure. A suitable time is when everyone else is actively engaged in a conversation. This is when your departure will most likely go unnoticed
When it is not a great idea to leave meetings early
- When you are running the meeting!
- If the meeting has the CEO or other seriously senior people that can influence or decide your employment fate
- When you are the new kid on the block and people are still working you out 
- When you know you will be assigned actions at the end of the meeting that you potentially need to dispute, delegate or negotiate
- Where decisions will be made that directly affect you
 actually this could be a good thing. You are setting the expectation that you are in control of your time, not others, and that the world does not revolve around them.
Apart from these, don’t feel obliged to stick around if you are not getting any value from the meeting. Your alternate is to get back to productive work that is directly linked to your expected deliverables, your KPIs, and ultimately your career success.
6. Don’t Call Meetings or Accept Invites
This should be your default position, albeit on many occasions it will not be your final position. Meetings do serve their purpose, but your challenge is to understand if a particular meeting serves a purpose for you;
- Do I need group consensus on an issue to move forward?
- Is it really important that people hear my contribution?
- How will this help me when it comes to me delivering on my bosses expectations ?
- Will the effectiveness of the meeting be significantly diminished if I am not there?
- Is my attendance important in maintaining or developing a key relationship?
Some of these may seem a little too self-focussed, but it is a useful 1 minute exercise to reflect on these questions when a meeting invite has arrived. They will assist you in regaining control of your time, and to only participate in meetings where there is value gained or given.
The Bottom Line
Meetings do serve their purpose but too often the meetings we attend lack purpose. To be a more effective leader ensure you are purposeful when organising or attending meetings;
- don’t call meetings for the sake of it
- hustle the floor and obtain consensus before a meeting is convened
- keep your meetings fresh by introducing some meeting boredom busters
- shorten your meetings, or avoid them altogether
- don’t persist with meandering meetings, leave them early