Career Advice, Watercooler

How Long A Meeting Should Really Be, According to a Communications Expert

When was the last time you walked out of a meeting feeling energized, excited, motivated, clear-headed? Exactly. Those meetings are rare.

At best, the good ones represent only half of all meetings. But even then, of all meeting attendees across the country, 91% say they daydream and 73% do other work. It’s estimated that $37 billion in salary cost is wasted each year in having people attend unnecessary meetings.

Okay, so let’s huddle. Something is terribly wrong with meetings. Surely we can address or fix this? For now, here are three suggestions concerning time, purpose and content: the basic components of every sit-down chat.

Time

One-hour meetings. Did you ever wonder why meetings are scheduled in one-hour time blocks? My guess is because it’s easy, and calendars have always readily enabled the one-hour time block. But do meetings need to last one hour? Absolutely not.

Meetings can be 15 or 30 minutes just as easily as they can be 60. The standard one-hour meetings – including and especially the ones that run over – happen as a result of someone a) doing “what we’ve always done,” and/or b) preferring to process or review everything in a group setting rather than giving it critical thought or vetting it with critical others first.

From now on, think before you send the meeting invite. What is this meeting for? Who really needs to attend? How many of the attendees really need to speak? How much discussion time does there need to be? Do I even need to call a group together or would it be better to meet one-on-one with a select few first and then call the group together later? If/when I call everyone together, how much time do we realistically need? Is the topic/issue worth that amount of time? Thoroughly think through these questions and plan before you schedule!

Purpose

Plain and simple: have an end-game in mind or don’t have the meeting. Ask yourself: What is my desired outcome? What do I hope or need to accomplish by calling this meeting? 

If you are the meeting leader, you need to be clear about the meeting’s purpose and articulate it at the top of the meeting. It sets context, expectations, and it helps you keep everyone on track. You are not obliged to build consensus about the purpose of the meeting. Rather, you establish the purpose and then move the meeting along to achieve it. 

Prior to the start of each meeting, ask yourself: What do I need to accomplish? Then, turn that into a sentence for your meeting opener and build your agenda around it. Your purpose, or desired outcome, becomes the litmus test – if an agenda item, discussion point, or even a particular person is not going to contribute to accomplishing the end-game, feel free to omit from the meeting. Likewise, if you cannot identify a clear purpose or desired outcome, then perhaps you need to revisit the validity of calling a meeting.

Content

To run a tight meeting, you should also ask yourself: What has to happen in order to arrive at the desired outcome? Will we need to inform, collaborate, share, process, decide? What verb best describes the type of communication that needs to take place?

Curate the meeting agenda so its content reflects what you are trying to accomplish, keeping the end-game in mind. All too often, meeting agendas are built around participants and ensuring that certain people get air time. Don’t worry about them, worry instead about the meeting’s effectiveness and time well spent!

By focusing on these three primary components, the foundation for each meeting will be rock solid. And from there, you can begin fine-tuning any minor details. You may even find that different structures are appropriate for different teams, and that’s okay! There’s no science or formula for “the perfect meeting,” but establishing a basic framework and slowly determining what works and what doesn’t can make all the difference.

 

Beth Noymer Levine is the Principal of SmartMouth Communications and author of Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World.

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