When it comes to the dimension of time, you can find any manner of sayings that speak to it’s strange and inevitable nature. The fact is that we never have enough of it when we want it. Or that we can’t dump it fast enough when we’d like it to pass quickly.
When it comes to how we conduct our business meetings though, William Penn might have the most applicable adage: “Time is what we want most, but… what we use worst.”
The everyday business meeting is generally accepted as one of the most massive wastes of time and resources in any given company, but often a necessary component. In fact, a survey from Research Now found that at least 13 minutes (more than 30%) of the average conference call, goes wasted. What’s causing this, you ask? Well, just the usual elements we expect in any business setting: the late joiner, downloading plugins to screen share, and background noise.
In the final installment of our five-part series on finding meeting utopia, we’re going to look at how time should be considered and better managed to get the most out of your meetings. As this is a post about time, let’s approach the subject chronologically.
As discussed in our previous posts about the location, people and technology involved in your meeting, these are all elements that if not controlled can affect how much time can be used effectively. The best use of your time before any meeting is to make sure all of these elements are ready to go. That is, assuming you have all of your own materials prepared, already. Here’s a few to consider:
Do you need to secure a room for the meeting? Will there be food to set out? Will you or anyone else be presenting? Do you need to set this up beforehand? You should have all of these items confirmed and hopefully prepared the day before your meeting. Because, we all know that when you leave things to the last minute, they inevitably go awry.
Will you have any remote joiners? Will there be an agenda? Discussion points? Send out all prep materials to your attendees well ahead of time, as well, to give them ample chance to review. Five minutes before is not enough time to digest these materials, as most of your guests are already in route or setting up themselves to get things started. Hopefully.
A strong start will set the stage for a productive meeting. Whereas, a shaky one will be that much harder to recover from, throughout.
Let’s talk about later joiners. They happen, it’s inevitable. Even under the best circumstances, things happen — other meetings run over, last minute calls come in, or a coworker pops by the desk with a “quick question.” Give about five minutes for everyone to join and get settled.
Once you’ve given that time, start with a simple roll call. This doesn’t have to be introductions, but it can be. However, a better use of time would be confirming what each person is looking to get from the meeting or address themselves.
Depending on the size of your group, those who join after this time should be quickly welcomed, briefly told what is being discussed in the present, but that’s it. Always keep things moving forward or else you’ll lose the attention of the group. The larger the group, the less braking you should do here. For every person in the room you’ll increase the possibility of losing attention or getting sidetracked.
Again, the most important thing you can do here is make sure things stay on track. Don’t let the meeting go outside of the agenda. However, if it does and needs discussing, ask the group to note it for later and suggest coming back to the subject once the agenda has been addressed. Or you can schedule another meeting.
Side conversations can also be a deterrent. Take control and stop them before they start. If you find people going off topic, bring them back to the task at hand with phrases like “That’s great and we’ll pick it up offline, but let’s continue to tackle our current discussion.”
For remote meetings where you’re presenting, mute guests until you’ve run through the presentation. Then open the line up at the end, or between obvious breaks in topic, for a few questions.
You can schedule a five-hour meeting and almost inevitably have more to talk about than the time you’ve allotted. Be ready for this by keeping a focus on the agenda and the clock.
Do you have another meeting following the first? Think others might as well? It’s always recommended to start wrapping things about five minutes ahead of your closing time. This gives you a chance to recap what was discussed, confirm next steps and assign out tasks without rushing everyone.
Set boundaries for the close of the call and if anyone tries to start a new topic, ask if it can wait until the next meeting, or offer to send an email to schedule a followup discussion. Could it be handled in an email without another meeting? A good rule to follow is if it takes more than three email exchanges to discuss the situation, schedule a meeting to knock it all out.
Simple tricks like the above can help keep you fast and strong in running productive meetings. They also can have an effect on the meeting after yours. Keep things moving for everyone by keeping track of your time before, during and at the close of your meetings.
Read our other posts in this series:
- Finding meeting utopia: what does it look like?
- Finding meeting utopia: the people
- Finding meeting utopia: the room
- Finding meeting utopia: the technology