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Tired of meetings? Here are some tips for keeping them short and productive

Throughout my career, I've had a love/hate relationship with one unavoidable part of the average office worker's life: meetings. A new survey shows I'm not alone, but it also provides tips for making meetings more productive.
Greg Kratz, Deseret News Modified: August 4, 2014 at 9:38 pm •  Published: August 5, 2014
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Throughout my career, I've had a love/hate relationship with one unavoidable part of the average office worker's life: meetings.
Throughout my career, I've had a love/hate relationship with one unavoidable part of the average office worker's life: meetings.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, said in a press release about the survey that misguided meetings can do more harm than good.

“An unnecessary or poorly conducted meeting can bring everyone down, because attendees feel like their time is not valued,” he said. “Leaders can avoid this situation by clearly establishing the purpose of the discussion, ensuring the right people attend and providing them an opportunity to contribute.”

Robert Half offered several tips for leading effective meetings in its press release and a related blog post, and I think many of them are worth sharing. For example:

  • Review the invite list. Only send it to people who have a stake in the outcome of items on the agenda. If attendance is optional for some people, make that clear.
  • Keep on track. Prepare and distribute your agenda in advance and make sure the discussion remains focused. This means the meeting leader also needs to be ready to cut off an unrelated conversation. I struggle with that sometimes, but I know it's important.
  • Consider stand-up or walking meetings. The Robert Half blog post points out that stand-ups are ideal for brief updates that need face-to-face interaction, and keeping people standing limits idle chitchat. Getting people out of the office and walking while meeting also tends to speed things along and can provide a definite end time.
  • Plan accordingly. Make sure there are enough seats in the room for all attendees (if you're not having a stand-up), and plan enough time for setting up technology. I always get to meetings I'm running at least five minutes early to make sure I can remotely log in to my computer and get the documents I'll need up on the projector.
  • Monitor time. Keep meetings short. If there's not much to discuss, cancel the meeting and try sending your message in an email instead. I've found that canceling an unnecessary meeting is always popular with my team.
  • Finish strong. Make sure people know what their next steps are as the result of a meeting: "Allow time for people to ask questions, and determine who has responsibility for each follow-up item," the Robert Half press release suggests.
I like these suggestions, and I could add more. For example, I include a 10-minute "housekeeping" item first in each of my team meetings. This gives us a few minutes to chat with each other and go over the team calendar before getting into the meat of the agenda. Some people may consider those 10 minutes wasted, but I have found the transition time is helpful for my team.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this subject. How much of the time you spend in meetings is wasted? Why do meetings at your office get off track? And what tips would you share to keep meetings moving quickly and in the right direction?

Please send me your ideas, and I'll mention some of them in a future column.


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