THE BLOG

How to Run an Effective, Efficient Meeting Without Wasting Everyone's Time

06/26/2015 04:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016

I forget how much I hate meetings until I have to go to one, like I did yesterday. And let me tell you, I have some serious meeting-related peeves. I'll bet I'm not alone.

This is not to say I'm totally opposed to meetings. I know they have their place. But as a self-employed indie author, I have far fewer meetings than I used to -- and believe me, I'm glad for it.

Nonetheless, I can't escape them completely. And poorly managed meetings drive me crazy. There ought to be a law where if you want to run meetings, you're required to get a Meeting License. You'd have to take a course in How to Run an Effective, Efficient Meeting Without Wasting Everyone's Time, and you'd have to renew it every two years.

You're with me, right? I know you are. Let's not waste our time! Pass this on to anyone who needs it.

Pam's Quick Tips on How to Run an Effective, Efficient Meeting Without Wasting Everyone's Time

  1. First, think again: are you sure you need to have a meeting? Are you really really sure? Think about it. Could the issue be handled in an email? Or a quick walk around the block with the people who need to be involved? Or maybe you could make a decision without having to involve everyone? Because maybe you don't need a meeting. Furthermore, if you think you need to have a meeting, is now the right time? Have people done what they're supposed to do before the meeting, or are you going to get a lot of, "Yeah, I still need to get on that"? Please be extremely sure you need to have a meeting before having a meeting. Especially if I'm involved. But if you do have to have a meeting, read on.

  • If you're the one who calls the meeting, show up on time. This should be obvious, but according to a meeting I went to recently, it's not. If you're asking me to be somewhere at a certain time, you should be there at that time, too. And if you think you're going to be late, reschedule so I don't have to sit and wait for you.
  • By that token, start the meeting on time. This should actually be numbers 1 through 20, as far as I'm concerned. None of this, "we'll wait a few minutes for those who are running a little late." Why are you rewarding the people who are late rather than the people who made it on time? Do you want people to get in the habit of coming late because you always start your meetings late? When the clock strikes the hour, start the meeting. People will soon learn to show up on time. Trust me on this!
  • Only invite people who need to be invited. This isn't a party, where everyone wants to be included. This is a meeting, which everyone wants to get out of. The more people you have, the more discussion (often unnecessary), and the longer the meeting drags on.
  • Why are we here? Before I step into the meeting, I should know why my presence has been requested and what you're expecting me to bring to the table. Please have a written agenda, and distribute that agenda well beforehand. Letting people know the purpose of the meeting well in advance will help them come prepared, and help everyone stay focused. And how long should the meeting be? In my opinion, it is a very rare meeting that actually needs an hour or more. Can you aim for a half hour? Give it a try!
  • Take notes, or assign someone to take notes. You'll need this after the meeting (see step 10). As items come up that need to be acted upon, assign those action items. Once an action item has been assigned, there's rarely need for much further discussion. Move on.
  • Stay focused! Keep the discussions moving forward! Those people who see meetings as fun social time will try to make meetings last as long as possible. Do not cater to them! Be polite but firm! "Maybe we can discuss this separately after the meeting?" "Let's get back on track..." "We have two more items on the agenda, so let's move on to the next one." Seriously, if you are in the position of leading a meeting, please be a leader. Everyone wants you to step up. This is not a social gathering; this is a meeting. If people feel they must socialize, let them do so afterward, when those who need to leave, can.
  • Along those lines, if you know these meeting attendees have a tendency to go off on tangents, set time limits for agenda items, and enforce them. Being in charge of the meeting means guiding people back to the topic at hand, ending redundant conversations, and moving on. If something really needs further discussion, schedule a time specifically for that conversation.
  • Are you done early? Awesome. End the meeting. I used to be in charge of a meeting my group was required to have monthly, even if there was nothing to meet about. I was queen of the five-minute meeting, and I never heard complaints.
  • After the meeting, either send out or have someone send out a summary of what was said in the meeting, and what action items were decided on, to be done by whom, and by when. Otherwise -- as happens in ninety percent of the meetings I've been to -- you risk coming to the next meeting (why are you having so many meetings??) and finding no one remembers that there was actual work that was supposed to be done as a result of the last meeting. Follow up.
  • And here's the five-minute-meeting version of the above: Don't have a meeting unless you have to. Start on time. Have an agenda. Stick to the agenda. Don't let people ramble endlessly. If you're in charge of leading the meeting, lead the meeting. End on time, or early. Follow up.

    I'm no business pro; just someone who really abhors a bad meeting. I'm sure there are things that could be added, but I think them's the basics. What do you think? Anything to add? Let me know in the comments!

    Also published at pamstucky.com.

    Somewhere between funny and philosophical lies the truth in Pam Stucky's writing. Pam is the author of several books including the Wishing Rock series (Northern Exposure-esque contemporary fiction, with wit, wisdom, and recipes); the Pam on the Map travelogues (wit and wanderlust); and the YA Sci-Fi The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (wonder and wisdom). Pam's driving forces are curiosity, the pursuit of happiness, the desire to thrive, and the joy in seeing others do the same. Pam is currently working on writing a screenplay, because life is short, so why not try?

    Find out more about Pam and check out her personal manifesto at pamstucky.com
    Follow Pam on Facebook and Twitter.