Three keys to running efficient and effective meetings

Posted on January 15th, 2016 by David Lewis

We spend a lot of time in meetings. According to a recent survey by Wrike, 50% of professionals have two to five meetings a week and 35% have six or more. And the higher up the ladder, the greater the number of meetings. Google’s senior VP of global marketing, Lorraine Twohill, for example, has 17-20 meetings a day, according to a recent Fast Company profile.

Those numbers may not include the pre-meeting meetings. Last April, global business consulting firm Bain & Company used data mining tools to analyze the time budgets of 17 large corporations. The analytics revealed that employees at one large company in particular spent 300,000 hours a year just supporting the weekly executive committee meeting. That’s the equivalent of 34 years. So how you know if you’re running really effective meetings?

Effective meetings: myth or reality?

Aside from the sheer volume, meetings don’t seem to be all that effective either. When writing our book, The Pin Drop Principle, we found a MCI “Meetings in America” survey that revealed 91 percent of business professionals admit to daydreaming during the meetings they attend, and 39 percent confess to falling asleep. Aside from not being present, nearly half don’t understand what they’re supposed to do afterward, according to the Wrike survey, and that’s the biggest stressor for workers – missing the information needed to complete projects and prioritize what do next. That’s a vicious cycle of inefficient and ineffective.

Based on our experience, we think there are three keys to running efficient and effective meetings.

Consider your audience

The first key is analyzing your audience. What problems do they face, what solutions they have tried, and how each of the individuals has contributed to the problem or helped to reduce it? By understanding the headspace your audience is in, you can determine your objective and intention. Objective is the goal of the meeting. What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want your audience to think/feel/do?

After you determine your objective, you can identify the best intention(s) to achieve it. Intention is a strong, one-word verb that will help you deliver your message with your whole voice and body. For example, if you want to motivate (intention) your sales team so they will achieve their Q1 quotas (objective), they should see fire in your eyes, hear encouragement in your voice (tone) and see motivation in your gestures (fist pumps) in your next meeting.

Focus on action

The second key is to stay on track and seek action. Don’t just discuss and educate. Try to define specific “calls to action” for attendees so they can be held accountable and get confirmation they can and will deliver. Address only relevant issues, if possible. Put everything else in a parking lot. At the end of the meeting, review what has been covered, what decisions have been made and what commitments are still outstanding and assign tasks.

Build in accountability

The third key is understanding and accountability. Make sure attendees know what’s expected of them and their respective deadlines. Check their body language to ensure they understand the tasks assigned to them. Don’t just look for a nodding head. Can you see the agreement in their eyes, for example? From there, make sure the follow-up takes place as soon as possible after the meeting is over. This will help avoid things falling through the cracks before too much time passes.

Efficient and effective meetings don’t just happen. They do take work. But by communicating with a strong objective and intention, keeping the meeting on track, and ensuring accountability and understanding, meetings can run smoother. And hopefully get out on time or slightly earlier.


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