7 Secrets to a Productive Meeting

Work meetings in the United States are notorious for being inefficient. In fact, Harvard Business School professor Nancy Koehn estimates  that roughly 4 billion business meetings are held in the U.S. each year (11 million per day), of which 2 billion are reported as ineffective.

When you’re a small business owner with limited time and staff, these numbers can represent some truly damaging losses. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can reframe your approach, making meetings an efficient and valuable tool for managing your business.

1. Prep Your Team

Share a clear agenda (including any relevant documents or attachments) with all participants before each meeting so your team is ready for fast and furious brainstorms or quick decision-making.

When developing an agenda, try to keep the topics to a minimum (five at most). During the meeting, follow a “table-it rule” for any questions or ideas prompted by the meeting that aren’t immediately relevant, and come back to them at a later time.

2. Define Clear Objectives

Hold fewer meetings, and ensure each has clearly defined objectives. Christopher Frank, vice president at American Express, suggests taking a moment before the start of each meeting to ask every attendee to state the meeting’s purpose in five words or fewer. Their responses will help determine if the meeting’s focus is narrow and clear enough.

3. Watch the Clock

Aim to limit your meetings to between 30 and 45 minutes, and don’t hesitate to break early if you can. According to TED organizers, 18 minutes is the attention span “sweet spot.”

Try some of these tactics to stay on schedule:

  • Hold meetings where participants are required to stand throughout the meeting.
  • Prohibit latecomers and always start on time.
  • Hold meetings just before lunch so your team has a shared incentive to end on time.

4. Follow the Two-Pizza Rule 

To keep your meetings brief, we recommend following Amazon’s CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos’ “two-pizza rule,” which holds that no meeting should include more participants than can be fed with two pizzas.

According to a calculation provided by SimplyStats.org, one weekly hour-long meeting with 20 attendees translates into 1,040 hours per year of potential productivity. Given a 40-hour workweek, that’s the equivalent of about six months spent in meetings.

To make sure you’re hosting meetings that make sense for your bottom line, use the MeetingCalc  app to determine the cost of your meetings based on attendees and time.

5. Set a Master of Meetings

Bain & Company estimates that at least two-thirds of all meetings end without an actionable conclusion. Designate a facilitator who is willing to manage the meeting’s timing ruthlessly and make sure the goal of the meeting is accomplished.

To keep the discussion moving forward, the role of the facilitator is to prevent the discussion from being hijacked, repetitive or derailed. If one of your employees has a firmer grasp on the topic at hand, consider allowing him or her to step into the role.

6. Walk It Out

Studies show that simply taking a meeting outdoors can reduce mental fatigue, improve short-term memory, sharpen focus and lessen stress. Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly a strong advocate of walking meetings, which likely appeals to the 39 percent of professionals who have confessed to having dozed off during meetings.

7. Kill Digital Distractions

A study by Wolf Management Consultants found that 73 percent of professionals admit to tackling unrelated work during meetings. Curb the temptation to text, surf or multitask during meetings by simply barring personal devices at the door — any relevant information can be viewed on a single, shared screen.

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