For millions of businesses, meetings are a necessary evil. They’re somewhat distracting and time consuming for most of the attendees, but in many cases, they need to occur; it’s the only realistic way to host an effective group conversation.
Still, meetings aren’t effective by default. If you want your meetings to be productive and truly collaborative, you need to make a concentrated effort to improve them. One clear path to accomplishing this is to save as much time as possible – reducing the length of each meeting without compromising your goals.
After all, each hour of meeting time you save is multiplied by the number of participants. If you have 100 employees saving just 1 hour per week, that adds up to 100 man-hours of savings every week – and 5,200 productive hours saved every year in your organization.
So how do you do it? How do you save time in your meetings?
Instructions, Directions, and Preparation
Meetings are rarely successful when people aren’t prepared. If nobody knows why the meeting is taking place, or if nobody has done their homework before attending the meeting, the communication you have during the meeting is going to be disastrous.
You’re going to spend half the meeting just figuring out what the meeting is about, and most people won’t have new information or perspectives to present.
Your job, therefore, is to provide ample instructions, directions, and opportunities to prepare for all your meeting attendees. For starters, make sure everyone knows where the meeting is being held and when it’s being held. With digital signage and the software to control it, this task is easy; in addition to sending out information about the meetings via email, you can use digital signs throughout the office to help people understand which conference rooms are booked for which times, when different meetings are scheduled, and even who should be attending them.
It’s also important to make sure people prepare any items they need to bring to the meeting. Is there a specific report they’re going to present? Are there specific questions they’ll need to answer? Even if you’re just having a brainstorming meeting, it’s important to give your attendees some time to prepare their thoughts and ideas.
You can save time and encourage productivity in meetings by scheduling each meeting wisely. While different individuals have different circadian rhythms and different preferences, most people aren’t performing optimally first thing in the morning, and meeting right before or right after lunch could be problematic. Aim for a time when your employees are going to be alert and capable of providing their full concentration.
Meeting Length Optimization
Most meetings in the United States take between 15 minutes and 2 hours, with 30-60-minute meetings being the most common. For the most part, meetings do not need to be this long. In fact, the duration of a meeting tends to swell to match the time allocated for it; if you schedule a meeting to take 2 hours, you can almost guarantee that it’s going to take at least 2 hours. If you schedule only an hour for the same meeting, you can probably get the task done in an hour. Always schedule your meetings for the shortest possible time slot to encourage productive time use.
Meeting Objectives and Leaders
One of the biggest productivity killers in meetings is distraction. If your employees aren’t paying attention, or if they go on tangents, communication during the meeting is going to be ineffective. These are just a few ways you can optimize your meetings to avoid this problem:
- Appoint a leader. A single person should be responsible for leading this meeting. This leader is going to be accountable for making sure the main objective is achieved and providing guidance or direction when necessary. This way, there’s no question who the authority is – and unnecessary deviations from the topic can be dealt with effectively.
- Follow a main objective or purpose. What is the purpose of the meeting? Meeting for the sake of meeting isn’t a good idea. Instead, it’s important that your employees know exactly what the desired outcome is so they can work together to achieve it.
- Avoid tangents and distractions. Most people are easily distracted during meetings, especially when meeting remotely. It’s the job of the meeting leader to avoid tangents and distractions whenever possible. If the topic of conversation wanders outside the scope of the meeting, the leader can bring things back in.
- End the meeting when the objective is achieved. Finally, be ready to end the meeting whenever your main objective is achieved. There’s no reason to host people in meandering conversation when you’ve already done what you set out to do.
Finally, you can optimize your meetings further by training your employees to be effective communicators.
- Individual voices. During a meeting, there should always be one voice. If nobody’s talking, you’re not making the most of the meeting. If two or more people are talking over each other, you’re wasting time. Bring out the conch shell if you have to; just make sure only one person talks at a time.
- Clarity. Encourage your employees to be as clear as possible when communicating. They shouldn’t have to repeat themselves or re-explain their concepts in new terms constantly.
- Conciseness. Don’t say more than necessary.
Most meetings waste time, but yours don’t have to. The sooner you introduce and enforce these improved meeting guidelines, the better your meeting communications will go.