8 steps to making meetings more efficient and effective

Invite only essential people, provide ample refreshments, and wrap it up within 15 minutes.

Business meeting tips

We spend a lot of time in meetings.

U.S. workers hold a whopping 11 million meetings per day. That’s 55 million meetings per week and 220 million meetings per year, and most are utterly useless. Unproductive meetings waste time and money—more than $37 billion per year.

Fortunately, you can use eight science-backed strategies to conduct more-productive meetings:

1. Set meetings for 15 minutes or less.

The average meeting lasts 31 to 60 minutes. That’s way too long for our finnicky attention spans.

TED Talks do not exceed the 18-minute mark, because, as TED curator Chris Anderson explains, that “is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.”

Furthermore, consuming too much information at once drains your brain—even if you’re just listening to someone speak. We also tend to retain more information when we receive it in a tidier timeframe.

So, for the sake of productivity—and sanity—ditch the two-hour meeting.

2. Invite fewer people.

In line with Jeff Bezos’ “two-pizza rule”—two pies should be enough to feed every attendee in the room. If not, your meeting is too big.

This isn’t a new concept. In the 1950s, British naval historian C. Northcote Parkinson developed Parkinson’s law of triviality, which says groups of people often give disproportionate weight to pointless discussions.

More recently, research has found that too much data from too many people can hamper productivity.

Before mindlessly inviting everyone in the building to your next meeting, whittle the invite list to people who absolutely must attend.

3. Provide ample refreshments.

Treats and beverages aren’t just a nice perk for attendees. Sustenance can make your meetings more productive.

Dehydration, for instance, can decrease the brain’s ability to concentrate and carry out basic tasks. Hunger can also quickly lead to a revolt.

4. Perfect your presentation.

Most of us have been stuck in meetings where it’s just listening to someone speak for an hour. If you’re the presenter, don’t do that.

Here are three tips to be a better, more humane presenter:

  • Follow the rule of three.If you want your team to retain what you’re talking about, package your key messages in groups of three, such as “your three objectives.”
  • Use the right colors.Different colors make people feel differently. Be mindful of the message the colors are sending in your attire, handouts and PowerPoint presentation.
  • Tell a story.“Data, while necessary, can be boring,” says Rick Lozano, a corporate trainer and keynote speaker. “Human beings are wired for storytelling. What story can we tell that makes these numbers come to life? If we can connect to their journey, their experience, they might be more likely to listen.”

5. Schedule meetings for Tuesday afternoons.

From Quartz:

“If you want to make sure everyone can be there, the best time to meet is Tuesday afternoon, according to a study from YouCanBookMe, a U.K. company that makes scheduling apps for businesses. The firm crunched data from more than 2 million responses to 530,000 invitations and concluded that 2:30 p.m. Tuesday is the time most people are free.”

Don’t subject your team to meetings on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons. Also, be respectful of lunchtime.

6. Ask everyone to stand.

Andrew Knight and Markus Baer’s study on stand-up versus sit-down meetings found that standing facilitates collaboration and fosters excitement regarding the creative process.

Stand-up meetings can just be a quick daily huddle or morning roll call in which each team member entire provides a brief status update.

7. Encourage everyone to write notes.

Some companies force attendees to hand over phones or switch off devices before meetings begin. Instead, encourage your team to take handwritten notes, which limits distractions and improves information retention.

8. Keep it interesting.

Finally, keep your audience engaged throughout.

Before scheduling anything, make sure the meeting is necessary and has a clear purpose. Ask attendees, “What exactly are we meeting about?” If the answer is, “I don’t know,” cancel it. Just ensure everyone is on the same page.

Other tips to keep meetings interesting: Be authentic, use humor, avoid jargon, provide useful handouts, and allow for discussions at the end.

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

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