25 ways to ruin a meeting

Woe unto those who attempt to skip breaks, go off on tangents or ‘power through lunch’ with no food. Heed these warnings to avert disaster at your next brainstorming or strategy session.

25 ways to ruin a meeting

We’ve all endured mind-numbing meetings that accomplish nothing.

You might even be sitting in one now. (Editor’s note: At least you’ve found some fascinating reading.)

Hopefully, your workplace prioritizes efficient strategy sessions, brainstorms and check-ins, but just in case you need a reminder, here are 25 ways to ruin a meeting—along with countermeasures to ensure productive participation:

1. Forget to set an agenda.

Meetings shouldn’t be like a freewheeling jam session. Sending out a firm agenda before the meeting starts gives everyone a chance to come prepared, and establishing what topics you’re covering should keep your team from veering off track.

2. Don’t bother taking notes.

Unless all your attendees have mystical memorization powers, designate a note taker before each meeting starts. The note taker should send a summary of the meeting—including takeaways or action points—to participants soon after it ends.

3. Start late.

Being disrespectful of your colleagues’ time is an easy way to sink a meeting. Start on time; end on time—period.

4. Make each topic untimed.

There is always room for adjustments during the meeting. However, specifying the amount of time you plan to spend on each topic sets an expectation and lets presenters know how much time they have. Otherwise, Barney from HR might take over the entire meeting with an hour’s worth of slides.

5. Invite everyone.

Does Barney from HR really need to be there? Limit meeting invitations to essential personnel.

6. Disregard introductions.

Make sure everyone is familiar with each other and the project at hand. It’s also smart to quickly review the meeting’s objectives to ensure everyone’s on the same page.

7. Overdo the icebreaker.

It’s nice to welcome everyone, but don’t spend an hour shooting the breeze. Keep those icebreakers under a couple of minutes.

8. Skip breaks.

A great way to aggravate employees is to make them skip their habitual break. Even if it’s just a five-minute break for coffee, a bathroom visit or stretching, a short intermission can reinvigorate your attendees. (Editor’s note: Maybe if you don’t go back in, no one will notice.)

9. Forget the snacks.

If you’re planning to host a long meeting, provide something to eat and drink. No one can think on an empty stomach—other than dark, grim thoughts about whoever is preventing the meeting from ending on time.

10. Invite distractions.

It’s dicey to ban phones from meetings, but you should discourage meeting participants from blatantly staring at their phones while someone’s talking. However you plan to mitigate distractions, set ground rules for phones and laptops at the outset to prevent misunderstandings. (Editor’s note: You’re reading this on your phone right now, aren’t you?)

11. Don’t address action items.

Meetings are useless without specific takeaways and action points. Email your team shortly after a meeting ends to remind them of who is responsible for what, exactly.

12. Ignore deadlines.

Untimed assignments are almost always late—or at least inefficiently completed. Set deadlines for projects, and ask members to report on progress during meetings.

13. Dominate the conversation.

The meeting leader can certainly say a few opening words, but he or she should open the floor to the group as soon as possible.

14. Stay too formal.

Formal meetings have their place. However, most employees prefer a more relaxed setting that invites discussion, ideas and candid opinions.

15. Get sidetracked.

Avoid going down rabbit holes. If a problem arises that’s not on the current docket, explore that topic in your next meeting. (Editor’s note: You just spent 45 minutes on padding expense reports. No, we’re not eavesdropping on your meeting; we’ve just been there before.)

16. Create long sessions.

No one wants to sit through a six-hour meeting. To maximize productivity and retention—and sanity—keep meetings as short as possible.

17. Abandon the agenda.

It’s important to be flexible—and you certainly may need to pivot if a crisis is brewing—but abandon the agenda only as a last resort. Cover what you said you’d cover, or just postpone the meeting.

18. Squeeze in everything on your to-do list.

If you try to jam too much into one meeting, you’ll lose the room. You can (and should) spread the process across multiple, shorter meetings.

19. Have meetings for no reason.

Do you do a daily check-in? You could be driving your team nuts. If there’s no major business to discuss, feel free to cancel or reschedule the meeting. (Editor’s note: Is it too late to cancel this one?)

20. Focus solely on a few people.

Some projects will have key players who present at every meeting. However, finding ways to involve everyone in the room will help keep attendees interested and engaged.

21. Ignore the next steps.

After every meeting, participants should come away with tasks or action items to focus on. Make sure everyone is clear about the next steps before they leave the room.

22. Figure out the technology at the last second.

It’s nice to involve remote employees via virtual software, but technical difficulties can quickly derail your meeting. Always test the technology before the meeting starts.

23. Set it for lunchtime.

If you do this, prepare for the worst, most contentious and least productive meeting of your life. (Editor’s note: You could, of course, provide lunch; just serve it on time.)

24. Leave no room for error.

In your agenda, build small buffers into the time you allot toward each subject. If your team is tearing into a specific topic, this built-in buffer will ensure that it does not derail the rest of your meeting.

25. Have hours’ worth of  PowerPoint slides.

PowerPoint is an excellent tool for some presentations. However, meeting attendees should not be subjected to hundreds of slides. This is an easy way to get your audience to quickly tune you out. (Editor’s note: You hear that, Barney?)

A version of this post first appeared on the Calendar blog.


One Response to “25 ways to ruin a meeting”

    Bill Spaniel says:

    Every meeting needs a designated leader. While the leader should not be a dictator, he or she should be sure that the schedule is followed and that everyone attending has the opportunity to contribute.

    For additional information on how to conduct efficient and productive meetings, I highly recommend the “Franklin Covey Style Guide,” which has excellent sections on the organization of effective meetings and how to properly take minutes. It’s essential.

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