Death by Meeting: How to save time and keep your sanity: Part 1

by Marsha Petrie Sue, MBA, CSP

Death by Meeting:

At meeting A major business publication estimates that more than 11 million meetings are held every business day. We all attend meetings that are boring and a waste of time and money.

A committee of three often gets more done if two don’t show up.

Herbert V. Prochnow

Reviewing the painful aspects of poorly planned meetings solves nothing. Understanding what makes successful meetings is time well spent.

Is your two-hour meeting worth $576?

1. Add together the per-hour salaries or hourly pay of all the people who attended a meeting.

2. Multiply the figure by two to account for benefits and general overhead paid by the company.

3. Multiply this figure by the number of hours the group met.

Example: $50,000 (average annual salary = $24/hr) x 6 attendees x 2 (benefits and overhead) x 2 hours = $576

– Think of a meeting you attended where little was accomplished.

– Compute an estimated cost of the meeting.

– Was this money well spent?

– How could this money have been spent more wisely?

The question is, what proactive steps can you take? You can become a star quickly by showing your colleagues and leaders how much money is being wasted in meetings. Here are seven time- and money-saving tips on how to plan an effective meeting. (Look for five more in Death by meeting: Part 2!)

1. Always outline the meeting objective prior to the meeting:

a. Things get done and time is saved because people know what to expect.

b. Participants feel energized and valued because there is focus.

c. Attendees will contribute freely, find solutions and make decisions.

d. Give people the right to challenge their attendance at a meeting, especially if it does not sync with their job, projects or directions.

2. When people are determined to bring their hidden agendas, you must be firm in sticking to the meeting agenda. Establish a “parking lot” so their issues are written down and can possibly be discussed during the meeting, at a later meeting, or off-line and out of meeting time.

3. Control time-wasters, know-it-alls, bores and other toxic people with ground rules (see #7 and click here for your download of Decontaminate Toxic People).

4. Pre-assign a point person to bring latecomers up-to-date when they finally arrive. This helps prevent wasting other people’s time. Or better yet, set a fine for late arrivals. (When I worked for a Fortune 100 company. the fine was $100 and the money was given to charities!)

5. If you are not in charge of the meeting:

a. If no one else is calling attention to the above ideas, take the initiative and bring it up.

b. If you are saying to yourself, “I’ll be fired”—hear me saying to you, “No you won’t. It’s what people do who take personal responsibility for their time and success.”

6. Distribute the agenda 24 hours before the meeting. This allows the thinkers and process-oriented people time to assimilate the agenda and consider their questions. This does not mean they can add to or change the agenda. If additional ideas are requested, they go on the agenda for the next meeting.

7. Set ground rules.

a. Ask the group if they would like to spend less time in meetings. (If you don’t get a response, quit. These people are too inept to work with.)

b. On a flip chart, ask them about the rules they would like to establish to run the meeting. These rules should be set by the attendees and revised for each meeting. If anyone veers off track, anyone can ask the group if they still choose to adhere to the ground rules.

Here is a sample of meeting ground rules:

(1) Stick to the agenda.

(2) Begin and end on time.

(3) Do not repeat an issue already reviewed.

(4) Provide concise answers (no rambling).

(5) Let each attendee finish their thought.

(6) Do not interrupt.

(7) What is said here stays here.

(8) Keep an open mind. Don’t judge.

CLICK HERE to read part 2

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One Comment

  1. Jen Merkel says:

    Great article Marsha – and so true too! I used to work for someone who needed his staff in meetings as his own “security blanket”. The problem is that we would spend hours in his office unnecessarily without getting our own tasks done. As someone who considers herself an efficiency expert, it drove me crazy! I hope we can spread the word about maximizing meeting productivity.

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