Five Ways to Keep Meetings Short and To the Point
Raise your hand if you have ever been in a meeting that dragged on forever and didn’t produce any worthwhile results. Everyone has been there, and yet nobody likes to feel they’re the one who’s wasting other people’s time. But somebody must be, no?
Whoever’s responsible, time-sucking meetings have happened to the best of us. And with many companies juggling entirely remote or hybrid workplaces, it’s even easier to fall into the trap of long, unproductive meetings.
Nonetheless, meetings are often necessary to push projects, initiatives, and plans forward. That means it’s important to learn how to conduct them in a productive way. Doing so will help maximize each team member’s time and highlight your strengths as a leader or colleague. Read on for five ways to keep the meetings you host short and to the point.
Table of Contents
1. Set an Agenda Prior to Scheduling
Everyone likes to know what to expect. Setting a meeting agenda before scheduling time on people’s calendars is one of the easiest ways to help your meeting stay on track.
The purpose of an agenda is to indicate what will be done at the meeting. It should also propose any expectations colleagues should anticipate beforehand. For example, if the goal of the meeting is to brainstorm a new concept or idea, you should state this in the meeting agenda. That way, everyone will arrive prepared to share the ideas they thought of before coming together.
Setting an agenda doesn’t need to be complicated. In the body of the scheduling invite, simply add a few bullet points explaining the purpose of getting together and why everyone is needed. List topics that will be covered and how much time you’ll devote to discussing each one. You can also add individuals’ names next to each bullet point if different people are taking points on different topics. Your colleagues will feel needed and will know to come prepared.
2. Avoid — or Mitigate — Last-Minute Calendar Additions or Changes
Everyone has tight schedules these days. In addition to workplace meetings, we have obligations outside of work that also require our time. That’s why adding a meeting to someone’s calendar on the day of — or even worse, the hour of — isn’t a good precedent to follow. An unexpected meeting can cause disruption or even panic in someone’s day. Nobody needs that in today’s world.
Of course, things happen, and sometimes the best way to address a PR crisis or a project bottleneck is to come together in a quick meeting. If a meeting is absolutely necessary, check the calendars of likely invitees first. Then send a note via email, Slack, or another internal communication method to confirm their availability. They may not put everything (e.g., school pickup, childcare dropoff) on their calendar, so you need to make sure they can actually attend.
3. Limit the Number of People You Invite
When it comes to meetings, it’s easy to default to inviting everyone you can think of who may touch a particular project. You don’t want to leave anyone out, after all. By doing this, though, you’re only setting your meeting up for unproductivity.
The number of people involved in a meeting typically varies depending on the meeting’s purpose. For instance, if you are meeting with your manager for a catchup, that will only involve the two of you. In contrast, a meeting to solve a problem may require upward of 10 individuals from various teams. Keep in mind that, in general, meetings with fewer than eight people tend to be the most productive.
As you schedule your meeting, think hard about whose attendance is critical and who can receive communications afterward via email. Of course, you should ask key stakeholders if they think you’re missing anyone from your list of attendees. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to invite those individuals, but you’ll likely want to include them in the post-meeting email.
4. Schedule Only the Time You Need
When more time is scheduled than is necessary, meetings are prone to expand to fill the available space. People come to the meeting with the mindset that they must sit through something for an extended period of time. So essentially, you’re kicking off the meeting with the participants already in a weary, drained headspace. Such meetings are also disposed to begin with lots of chit-chat or aimless conversation.
In today’s Zoom-heavy world, sitting through even an hour-long call can be tiresome and ineffective. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to set meeting times outside of the typical 30-minute increments. If you only need to touch base on one particular agenda item, block out 15 minutes. If you think you’ll need longer than 30 minutes, schedule a 40-minute call — not an hour-long one.
Also, go back to your agenda and see whether you’re attempting to cram too many items into one meeting. You and your colleagues may be better off with two shorter meetings on different days than one long meeting.
5. Cancel Regularly Scheduled Meetings That Aren’t Necessary
Research reported in Inc. found that U.S. companies squandered $399 billion on unnecessary meetings in 2019. That represents a lot of time spent talking to your colleagues. That’s also likely a lot of regularly scheduled meetings that could have been shortened or canceled.
We all fall into the trap of feeling important by having time booked on our calendars. (See? Everybody needs me!) In reality, these recurring meetings aren’t always necessary.
At the beginning of the workweek, evaluate your calendar. Is every booked time slot absolutely required? Are there duplicate meetings with the same individuals throughout the week? You may be able to combine meetings and help clear some time on everyone’s schedule. Remember, if a meeting doesn’t have a clear agenda or purpose, you may be better off canceling it.
Short, efficient meetings are more productive and can yield more creative results. When attendees aren’t drifting off into boredom, they can better absorb everything that is being discussed. Sticking to an agenda will give your colleagues a better sense of what’s expected of them moving forward. They’ll also be aware of any deliverables they need to act on right away.
Perhaps most importantly, when you set the precedent for shorter, more efficient meetings, your colleagues will likely reciprocate. What goes around comes around, right?