Have you ever found yourself struggling to stay awake during a meeting, swallowing yawn after yawn while keeping your eyes open unnaturally wide in order to prevent them from closing?
Have you tuned out your longwinded colleagues while making to-do lists in your head or daydreaming about a much needed vacation?
Have you ever looked around at the other people in the room and noticed a number of them looking just as slack jawed and distracted as you when the 75th slide of a shared screen PowerPoint presentation zooms by?
I bet you have.
In my experience, most meetings are both boring and unnecessary, but corporate America is obsessed with them. In 2017, the Harvard Business Review noted that “research [shows] that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. And that doesn’t even include all the impromptu gatherings that don’t make it onto the schedule.” Despite the fact that they cut into productivity, increase the stress levels of employees and executives who have to put off other work in order to participate, and are often so boring that, for most, the prime directive is simply staying awake, corporations big and small seem to be addicted to meetings.
And, sure, some meetings are essential for team building, arriving at creative solutions, and making sure everyone is on the same page about moving forward on a particular project or initiative. But it seems that a well-run, informative, focused, and brief meeting is a business unicorn–a mythical beast that no one has ever seen in the real world.
So, what can you do to make your company’s meetings more effective:
- Set an agenda and stick to it – don’t allow your more prolix team members to hijack the proceedings with long asides meant to show off how much they know.
- If you’re sharing slides, don’t read what’s on the slide. Assume that your audience is literate and can read for themselves.
- Offer to e-mail the presentation to the team so that they can review the information at their leisure.
- Edit yourself. You know there will be many other meetings. Don’t try to do everything in this one.
- Avoid repetition. You can refresh people’s memories with a brief description of what was covered in the last meeting, but don’t rehash information that has been shared numerous times before.
- Give everyone a time limit for their presentations and ask that questions be held until the end.
- Edit your team. If everyone doesn’t have to be present at a meeting, don’t make them show up for it. They can better utilize their time getting their work done than sitting in on something that doesn’t pertain to them.
- Don’t be a slave to the calendar. If there isn’t enough to cover in a weekly meeting, cancel it and reschedule it when there is something to talk about.
- If it can be handled through an e-mail exchange, skip the meeting altogether.
As Jason Fried says, “Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.” Maybe it’s time to reimagine the workplace meeting so that it’s less salty and more palatable.