Make the Most Out of Your Meetings
By Chelse Benham
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we
were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
When you hear the word “meeting” does a negative connotation come to mind?
According to Roger Mosvick, a professor of communication studies at Macalester
College in St. Paul, Minnesota, badly run meetings cost nearly $100 million a year, when
you account for the salaries of everyone attending. According to his 20 year study,
Mosvick found on average employees spend more than eight hours a week in meetings.
Middle managers spend more than 10 hours while top executives spend more than 12
hours per week in meetings. That’s an astounding number of meetings.
“Have a set agenda with budgeted time for each item in the meeting,” said Lourdes
Servantes, placement specialist at The University of Texas-Pan American’s Career
Placement Services Office. “Most meetings lack organization. We stress to our student
organizations and to professionals that they be well prepared when setting up meetings.”
“Especially because most meetings are terribly unproductive and often a complete waste
of time,” reported Charlie Hawkins, president and founder of Seahawk Associates, a
consulting firm in Sedona, Arizona and author of “First Aid For Meetings: A Guide To
Running Effective Meetings.”
There are very good reasons why people hate meetings, suggests Susan Bowles,
feature writer for USATODAY. She gives the following examples of where meetings go
• meetings veer off topic
• meetings are inconclusive: neither decisions nor assignments are made, often
because one-third of the people who should be present aren’t
• meetings lack rules, purpose and agendas
• many people don’t know why they are at the meeting
• the meetings are too long
• the meeting facilitator has little control and is disorganized
The cardinal rule of a meeting: Don’t feel compelled to call a meeting if it isn’t needed.
“Save your meetings for items that require discussion or decisions,” said Dean Meyer,
author of “Meyer’s Rules of Order: How to Hold Highly Productive Business Meetings.”
According to Bowles, if a meeting has to be held then there are some simple things that
the moderator should do prior to the meeting to make it more effective and efficient.
1. Create a prioritized agenda of all the items that need to be discussed.
2. Know the objective of the meeting and think of the outcomes for the meeting: (1)
What is the perfect outcome? (2) What is the minimal acceptable outcome?
3. Rethink your list of attendees. Don’t invite anyone who is not absolutely needed
and who can contribute to the meeting.
4. Send the meeting agenda, preferably a week before the meeting, to everyone
who is participating. List the goal of the meeting and its objective.
5. Confirm the location and time of the meeting with the participants.
6. Think of ways to make the meeting visually more compelling, use graphics,
power point presentations and any visual aids.
7. Schedule the meeting before lunch or quitting time to eliminate unnecessary
discussion and encourage participants to focus on the task at hand.
8. Schedule the meeting at an odd time, such as 4:13. Strangely, this seems to
9. Schedule the meeting far enough in advance for all participants to put it on their
10. As the moderator come prepared.
As the moderator of the meeting there are some necessary skills and practices that
make a more effective meeting according to Christopher M. Avery, Ph.D., president of
Partnerwerks, a business management consulting firm.
• Don’t wait for latecomers to start the meeting.
• Always start the meeting on time and finish on time.
• Use the agenda to keep the meeting on track.
• Avoid a lecture meeting. Get participants actively involved.
• Develop an action plan at the end of the meeting by assigning responsibilities to
specific people and give them due dates.
• Get feedback from the participants at the end of the meeting.
• Distribute the action plan and meeting notes to all participants.
As the participant of a meeting, Kelly Cullison, virtual assistant and founder of Atlas
Virtual Services, a business services web site, suggests these things to keep a meeting
• Be clear about the goal and objectives of the meeting you are attending. Review
your agenda. Determine where you fit into the meeting, how you would
• Confirm the place and time of the meeting. Know where to go and how to get
• Be on time to the meeting.
• While it’s important to be on time, try not to arrive too early. This implies you
have time to waste.
• Keep busy while you are waiting; this communicates the message that you have
things you need to be doing.
• Don’t wait more than 15 minutes for the meeting to start. If 15 minutes have
passed reschedule the meeting for a later date.
• If you think a meeting has nothing to do with you, contact the moderator and
politely excuse yourself from the meeting.
Perhaps the greatest annoyance, of most meetings, is the drifting away from the topic
and agenda at hand. At www.3m.com, it offers this advice to keeping meetings on track.
• Topic drift, sometimes called “being in the weeds,” can be more fun than the
meeting’s objective, but should only be briefly tolerated if the group is to achieve
What to do:
When you suspect a conversation has abandoned the objective call for a
clarity check. “Excuse me, I’m not clear that this conversation is on topic, I’d
like to check to see if it’s important to pursue now.” The participants can
evaluate its importance and move from there.
• Breaking time agreements - time agreements are typically broken in two ways:
o the start and end times aren’t honored,
o the budgeted time for an agenda item isn’t honored.
What to do:
o Announce when agenda items run over budgeted time. “We have spent
more time on this item than intended. What does the group want to do?”
• Sub-group focus – Often, agenda items spawn dialogue among a small group
who have important views to share with each other.
What to do:
o Make a spontaneous break-out session public by saying, “This
discussion appears to involve only a few people. Is it something that can
be resolved rapidly? What does the group want to do?” By bringing
attention to it, the meeting is brought under control and back on track.
Some meetings get stuck. According to Avery, a meeting can be identified as being
stuck in the following ways:
1. No forward progress. The agenda is not being met.
2. Denial, blame and rationalizing become evident. Meeting
participants disown and blame others instead of focusing on the
problem at hand.
3. A meeting gets stuck because it lacks the following:
o not enough information to act on
o the problem is too complex for the meeting
o needed people are not at the meeting
o premature convergence
Hope is not lost. Avery offers a process for getting a meeting unstuck:
1. Declare being stuck.
2. Jot down five reasons for being stuck.
3. Recount the narrative history of the meeting, perhaps how the group kept
coming back to the same stopping point. Does this point need to be
4. Generate new possibilities by asking “What else could we do to get unstuck
and make progress?”
An effective meeting can have resounding and positive effects in business matters.
While a majority of meetings seem less organized and clear there is hope. Bottom line:
Hold a meeting only when it’s absolutely necessary to get the job done. Provide as much
information as possible to the participants before the meeting happens.
“Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of
the fact.” – George Eliot (1819-1880) - Mary Anne Evans, nineteenth century author who
adopted George Eliot as her nom de plume.