Unless you are very lucky (or just very young), you’ve most likely given up precious hours of your life to meetings that either ran way too long, or didn’t need to happen in the first place.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve spent plenty of time over the years discussing ways to hone your meeting-running technique, and a lot of it comes down to a certain set of basics. Namely: Always set an agenda, be willing to steer people back on-topic, carve out set amounts of time for each topic to keep things from running long, and so on.
And yet! Not everyone in the world has picked up on these key truths, and we still often find ourselves in meetings that lack focus, run way too long, or fail to accomplish what they set out to do. As such, we appreciated writer and speaker Seth Godin’s recent blog post with a succinct checklist of questions you should be able to answer about a meeting ahead of time in order to make it worthwhile. Among them:
- Is there one specific person in charge of the meeting?
- Is there a desired outcome for the meeting that’s been made clear to everyone involved?
- Is there any way better to proceed with the task at hand, other than holding a meeting?
- Does everyone have all the information they need in advance?
Other items on the checklist include making sure that an appropriate amount of time is allotted for the meeting in question (not too much or too little), and that everyone who needs to be there in order for the conversation to be productive will be there.
From personal experience, a few other key questions that could be added to the checklist:
- Is anyone in the meeting who doesn’t need to be there (and whose time might be best used elsewhere)?
- Who will be in charge of following up on action items after the meeting?
- How much time is needed to adequately address each item on the agenda?
Of course, the best planned meeting in the world can veer off the rails if someone goes off on a tangent or talks too long, so whoever’s running the meeting needs to be willing to (politely) cut people off and move the focus back where it needs to be (“We need to move on” are the sweetest words in the English language). If you have any surefire techniques for avoiding the hell of time-wasting meetings, by all means, leave ’em in the comments. That’s a great point, and we’ll have time to address questions and suggestions once we’ve covered the rest of today’s agenda.