HubSpot recently posted, in fact, a blog about how Americans spend at least 31 hours a month in meetings largely considered to be unproductive (inspired by an Atlassian infographic).
It’s nothing new to complain about the time spent in meetings, of course. The genesis of the infographic and post about time wasted in meetings is from another article and white paper from MCI (Verizon) called Meetings in America written back in 1998!
So it seems when Americans are not in meetings, we spend a lot of time complaining about them! But if everyone hates meetings so much, why do they proliferate faster than the common cold?
We think it’s because, in business, communication is king, and coordination is queen. You simply can’t get a message across via any other method as you can through effective collaboration in meetings – whether they are in person, virtual, or a combination of both.
Have you ever tried to get even 2 or 3 people on the same page via email? It’s not easy, and the more people you add to the equation, the worse it gets. How well do you think it would go if you had 10 people whose inputs you needed and whom you ultimately needed to be moving in the same direction? What if there were 20? That might not be impossible, but it sure wouldn’t be pleasant.
Hence, we hold meetings.
But they don’t have to be so bad.
Let’s take a look at how to make meetings better.
Meetings are hijacked by chaos… So bring order to chaos
There is nothing worse than having to sit through an out-of-control meeting when you have other things to do.
Consider using Robert’s Rules of Order (or some subset thereof) to keep meetings on track. For example:
1. Have a designated chair to keep order.
2. Have a process in place whereby people can give their input once, then concede the floor to others for their input, and follow up with final thoughts after everyone has had his or her chance to speak.
3. Have a process in place to “table” topics that aren’t related to the specified agenda or which can’t be resolved during the scheduled time.
For more on how Robert’s Rules of Order can help your meetings, see our post How to Use Robert’s Rules of Order to Make Conference Calls Hum.
4. Brainstorming meetings have their own special challenges since chaos is almost encouraged as a way to loosen up participants to share their ideas. You can set boundaries around the chaos, though, using these 7 Ways to Make Brainstorming Meetings More Productive.
Meetings are too long and too slow-moving… So cut them down and speed them up
5. Prepare extensively. Have a well-thought-out agenda and stick to it. (Here are some suggestions for an essential client update meeting agenda you can adapt.)
6. Consider holding 45-minute meetings to increase on-time arrivals and implementing Dr. Ken Hudson’s fast-paced “idea blitzing” to move through all the phases of an issue quickly. These ideas are laid out in our post Tackling Productivity – One Meeting at a Time.
Meetings are usually “Death by PowerPoint”… So throw out the crutch
When you get lost in PowerPoint, you can easily forget you’re talking to people. Change your focus and make people your priority. You’re a human being; they’re human beings; so talk to them on that level! Outcome? They won’t mind attending your meetings as much, they’ll participate and cooperate more, and you’re more likely to get the results you’re seeking.
7. Do they look bored or confused? Change your approach. Ask them questions to engage them in the topic.
8. Use your meetings to foster a greater sense of community connection. Meetings are a great way to get in tune with your team. How do they interact with others? What are their particular personality strengths and quirks?
9. Acknowledge and appreciate people. A small sprinkling of genuine gratitude goes a long, long way.
Yes, we spend a lot of time in meetings. No, they don’t have to be merely a source of complaint. In fact, we have 6 months left to make 2014 the year we conquer this beast! If you build the momentum by adding in just one or two of these tips each month, we bet you’ll find 2014’s meetings to be much, much better than the ones we complained about in 1998!