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How to only run effective meetings

Last updated on
July 25, 2018

People love to hate on meetings, and for good reason. While they can enable creative collaboration, many are wildly unproductive. And when you consider that meetings eat up 15% of an organisation’s collective time, they also get wildly expensive, wildly fast (the US economy alone wastes $25 million per day on meetings that are completely unnecessary!).

While virtual working in COVID-19 lockdown has understandably increased the amount of synchronous contact between many teams, it has also brought its own meeting challenges, such as "Zoom fatigue" and virtual presenteeism. While there are certainly several benefits to meeting virtually, relocating to video calls hasn't materially solved the productive problems of meeting culture itself.

So how can companies stop having pointless meetings and needlessly wasting resources? It starts with recognizing that meeting time is just as accountable as any other business cost. Here are six simple ways to ensure you only run effective meetings.

1.   Know your purpose

Before you do anything, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve with your meeting. Then consider whether a meeting is actually the most effective forum for solving that problem. All too often, we arrange meetings for issues that would be more effectively solved by a short conversation or simple message with a colleague. You need to the cultural meeting habit: instead of being a knee-jerk response for problem solving, meetings should be seen a last resort – when lighter-weight channels just aren't an option.

Could you solve your problem using an asynchronous forum like Basecamp, instead of holding a meeting?

2.   Make all meetings optional

The more people present at the meeting, the heavier the collective time drain on your business. So be ruthless with attendance: if you won’t add any value, you shouldn’t be there. It’s simply not efficient or profitable to pull resources into meetings when they have nothing to contribute. Adopt an opt-in policy for every meeting, to make everyone really consider what they can add. This also enables a more considerate working culture – giving people agency to decide what’s the best use of their productive time.

3.   Send presentations ahead

Effective meetings are sites for discussion, not presentation. Share any research materials or insights which will inform that discussion ahead of your meeting. Why? Because verbally processing a document as a group is monumentally inefficient. Reading crucial information for the first time in meetings is cognitively tough – especially when people talk at you while you read – and requires much more to time for each individual to process. Cutting this passive task out helps keep meetings action-focused and will minimize empty time.

Intuitive cloud-based presentation tools like Pitch let you tag stakeholders and raise in-context questions for meetings.

4.   Set a loose agenda

Meetings without a rough agenda quickly become directionless and lead to tangents, unrelated chat and circular conversation. Create a loose structure to guide your group discussion and send it ahead of the meeting to ensure people are clear on what needs to be done. But keep it specific and contained – an overly complex agenda can create several directions which clash for attention and also lead nowhere.

5.   Track all meeting time

Like any other business expense, the cost of meetings needs to be quantified. Tracking meeting time is the easiest way to gain that control and oversight; you simply can’t measure if optimization efforts are actually effective without it. Automatic time tracking apps like Timely capture total meeting time across your organization – from meeting duration, pre- and post-meeting prep, associated travel and the specific documents discussed. They’re a great way of visualizing and costing all the resources you pour into meetings, whether you bill for meeting hours or just want a better hold on your internal time.

Automatic trackers like Timely record all time spent in meetings and related tasks in the background.

6.   Automate minute taking

Creating meeting minutes is an essential but unproductive task, and adds to the burden of “hidden” extra-meeting costs. They also necessarily limit your focus on the meeting itself, taking you away from the discussion. Thankfully, automated tools like Otter and Tetra can now do the job for you. They harness voice recognition technology to create digital records of your meetings while they take place; you don’t even have to take notes.

Otter Voice Meeting Notes - Otter.ai
Apps like Otter use AI to translate audio into digital meeting minutes for you.

💻 Video calls: 6 tips for better virtual meetings

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