Save Time—Make Meetings Shorter

A recent Wall Street Journal report indicated that CEO’s spend about a third of their working time in meetings. Most of us cannot afford to let meetings occupy that much of our work schedule. Another recent WSJ article reported some organizations now hold meetings standing up in an effort to move things along. I love that idea, but my guess is that this would not be popular with most.

Here are some of my thoughts about streamlining the various meetings in which we all participate.

Organizational meetings: Meetings with 5, 10, 20, 25 people around a conference table can be useful and informative or they can be interminable and counterproductive. Meeting leaders should set a time limit. Personally, I hit a wall about 90 minutes into such meetings. Meeting leaders should set and follow an agenda and rein in discussions that go off topic.

Meeting participants can help. Come prepared. Read the agenda and any notes before the meeting. Respect the time of the others in the group. I have been in numerous meetings where a minor topic is given major time and attention. If you bring up a new business item, state it and offer a quick summation, but don’t conduct a campaign. If your question can be answered in a quick hallway chat or an email exchange, don’t bring it up at the meeting.

Networking meetings: I have had some excellent one-to-one’s with people I’ve met at larger networking events. I have also had some meetings that were an absolute waste of my time (and that of the other person). Suggestion: set a time limit and share that limit with the other person going in. If you are meeting over coffee for the first time, the conversation will likely be a mix of professional and personal chat. But if you indicate that you need to move on in an hour or less, you and your counterpart will be more likely to focus more on what’s going on here and now (and less on career anecdotes from the past).

If the conversation is stimulating, and the prospects of doing business with the other person are strong, you can always extend that time limit. Or if a good connection is apparent, you can schedule another meeting.

Sales meetings: When presenting a proposal or closing a deal, take cues from your client. You may be one of many vendors knocking on his door today. Or he may be someone who likes to talk and you should take some time to listen. Be flexible.

Final takeaway: I love this quote from a CEO in the WSJ piece. He says, “When you are sitting in a meeting, your competition is getting stuff done.”




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