No More
Deadly Meetings

by Bette Price

   No doubt most employees view meetings much like the humorist, Dave Barry who compares most corporate meetings to a funeral, �in the sense that you have a gathering of people who are wearing uncomfortable clothing and would rather be somewhere else.� Barry says that the big difference between attending a funeral and attending a meeting is that most funerals, �have a definite purpose (to say nice things about a dead person) and reach a definite conclusions (this person is put in the ground), whereas most company meetings generally drone on until the legs of the highest-ranking person present fall asleep.�
    Add to this deadly droning the fact that ineffective meetings are deadly costly. Say the average attendee earns a salary of $45,000. If this person spends 2 hours a day, five days a week in a meeting (which is statistically the time the average manager spends in meetings), the cost per week is $450. Annually, that�s $22,500. Multiply that times the number of people in the meeting and you get the idea� meetings can also be deadly to your bottom line.
    Obviously, the answer to this time and money eater is not to cancel all meetings, but rather to do everything possible to conduct more successful, effective meetings. Here are Six Significant Steps to mastering your next meeting:


Meet for the right reason.

   Reasons vary greatly for why meetings are held. A study conducted at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California found that nearly 66 percent of corporate meetings are held to reconcile a conflict, reach a group judgment or decision, or solve a problem. The common denominator here is being able to answer the questions: Is there a clear need for the group to assemble? Meetings should only be called when there is a need for people to interact. Here are eight legitimate reasons for people to interact:

  • To reconcile conflicting views.
  • To reach a group decision.
  • To solve a problem.
  • To communicate important or sensitive information.
  • To gain support for an idea or project.
  • To explore new ideas and concepts.
  • To report on progress.
  • To demonstrate a product or system.

A few other legitimate purposes for holding a meeting are: To build morale, to confer awards or offer recognition, to plan projects and strategies, or to provide training. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself these questions to clarify if a meeting is really necessary:

  • What is my objective?
  • Is there a better way to achieve my objective?
  • Is the timing right?
  • How much will the meeting cost? (Remember, time is money)
  • What will happen if I don�t call the meeting?

Select the best time and length for your meeting.

   Timing is everything. Here are some time guidelines:

  • Meet when participants are at their best.

   Monday morning or Friday afternoon are the least desirable times. Participants are likely to have little motivation at these times. The hour immediately following lunch is not great also as most people are rather lethargic following lunch.

  • Start at an unusual time, and end at a natural break point.

   There is no hard-fast rule that says a meeting must start on the hour or half hour. If a meeting is scheduled to start at an unusual time, participants are more likely to show up on time�particularly when the meeting is scheduled to end at a natural break point such as lunch or the end of the workday. For example, to hold an efficient 20-minute meeting, schedule it for 4:40 p.m. when the workday ends at 5 p.m.

  • Avoid surprise meetings.

   Most people do not appreciate unplanned meetings because they interrupt the flow of their workday. It also leaves people insufficient time to prepare, thus sets the stage for people to enter the meeting with a negative attitude.

Here are some length guidelines:
  • How complex or controversial is the topic?

    The more controversial the agenda items, the fewer issues you can address in a given time period.

  • How many topics do you need to cover?

    If you have more topics than can effectively be handled in one meeting, it is better to schedule a second meeting rather than try to cram too much information into the first meeting.

  • How many people will be attending the meeting?

    The greater the number of participants, the shorter the meeting should be. Small groups allow for a high level of interaction and make the time pass quickly. Large groups restrict interaction, thus it is more difficult to maintain interest and be inclusive.

Prepare an agenda.

   As trite as this many sound, it is far too often ignored. The first step in developing your meeting agenda is to refine your meeting objectives. With objectives clearly defined, you can begin to develop an agenda, keeping the following five factors in mind:

  • Limit the number of agenda items.

    Separate the �need to know� from the�nice to know,� and include only the �need� items. Provide supplemental material if need be.

  • Don�t dwell on the past.

   Focus on actions and decisions that will heavily affect the future.

  • Allocate ample time.

    If you think 20 minutes of discussion is required, schedule 30 minutes. Allow time for questions, creative discussion, and unexpected input. When discussion trails from the agenda, put the topic in a �parking lot� for discussion at a time when the topic is on the agenda.

  • Present opportunities versus problems.

    This helps to avoid a negative mood. How you approach issues will greatly impact the participant�s mind-set.

  • Include sufficient detail.

    Help participants understand exactly what you want to accomplish as a result of the meeting.

Consider circulating your agenda for refinement or additional suggestions.

This enables participants to play a role in setting the final agenda and creates a greater sense of ownership of the meeting. All agendas should include the following:

  • Meeting objective(s)
  • Location
  • Starting and ending time
  • Timing of breaks, if any
  • Name of leader/facilitator
  • Summary of topics, with presenter names
  • Time to be allocated to each topic
  • Category of topic (Decision, Information, or Discussion)
  • Name of meeting recorder
  • Instructions on how to prepare for the meeting/and or materials to bring

Include supplementary material that will help participants prepare for the meeting, but don�t overload them with these materials.

Invite the right people.

All too often the wrong people show up at meetings because invitations are frequently based on politics rather than purpose. As a results, people get invited (or don�t get invited) to meetings for other than legitimate reasons. Here are some criteria for inviting the right people to the meeting:

  • People who have enough knowledge of the subject to make meaningful contributions to the meeting.
  • People with the power to make decisions or approve projects.
  • People responsible for implementing decisions made in the meeting.
  • People who will be affected by the decisions made, or their representative.
  • People who need information that will be presented in the meeting in order to perform their jobs more effectively.

Invite the right number of people.

The number of people invited impacts the efficiency as well as the cost of doing business. The optimum number of participants will vary according to the type of meeting. Here�s a guideline:

Meeting Type      Max# of Participants
Problem Solving               5
Decision Making               10
Problem Identification      10
Training                           15
Informational                  30
Review or
Presentation                  30
Motivational                  No Limit

Concluding the meeting properly.

   At the end of each meeting it is important to��.

  • Summarize key topics.
  • Be brief and concise.
  • State conclusions and relate to original meeting purpose/objective.
  • Restate recommendation outcomes of the meeting.
  • Outline actions to be taken (who, what, when)
  • Use a Meeting Action Plan that includes action to be taken, person responsible, deadline, completion and next meeting date

   By planning and leading effectively you will be able to avoid dreaded, boring meetings and turn them into energizing, productive and cost-effective success builders.