Every industry relies on business meetings to get things done. And most employees dread them.
That’s because even when the meeting is necessary and productive, your team members have about a million other things they need to accomplish. Their to-do lists don’t disappear simply because you scheduled a mandatory meeting.
Add to that the staggering numbers about meetings:
- U.S. organizations hold between 36 and 56 million meetings every day.
- 67% of meetings are considered unproductive.
- Average salary cost of a meeting is $338.
- 37% of meetings start late.
- Employees spend about 31 hours in unproductive meetings.
Time is a zero-sum game. You cannot create more of it, so the more time you spend in meetings, the less time you have for other tasks -- especially important if you’re an entrepreneur.Business meetings are a fact of life, but you can ensure yours are accomplishing what you intended without demoralizing your team. Here’s how.
Better Business Meetings in 5 Easy Steps
1. Be exclusive
Employees rarely enjoy business meetings. When the meeting doesn’t actually require their presence, you’re wasting their time and watering down your meeting.
Determine which team members legitimately need to be present at your meeting and limit your attendee list to those people only. When you involve unnecessary colleagues in the meeting, it’s easy to get off track and harder to build consensus with a large group.
Experience also suggests fewer people speak out in large groups of people. Instead of sharing their thoughts and ideas, they’ll likely go along to get along.
Amazon calls it the “two-pizza rule:” if you can’t feed the entire group with two pies, you’ve included too many people. Google also caps its meetings at eight.
Task attendees with sharing the meeting’s information with their team members and free the unnecessary people to continue being productive outside the meeting.
2. Stick to an agenda
Without a predetermined agenda, your meeting will stray from its course and likely last longer than it should.
Create a firm agenda ahead of time to keep attendees focused and ensure you cover the material you need to. A few more tips:
- Allot a specific period of time for each point on your agenda.
- Invite someone to act as timekeeper and notify the group when time is up.
- Send the agenda to those who are attending at least 24 hours in advance, so they’ll be prepared to contribute to the conversation and add value.
- Request attendees review the agenda and send additions or changes ahead of the meeting.
- Make the most of your agenda by using it as an outline to guide your meeting notes.
Additionally, if there’s a specific challenge to which you need a solution, encourage them to prepare solutions beforehand, so the meeting focuses on relevant solutions rather than on the problem. This will help employees feel invested because they are contributing to the meeting.
New York Times bestselling-author Mark Murphy suggests having a clear outline can shave as much as 17 minutes off your meeting time. Those 17 minutes can be devoted to productive efforts that generate revenue for your company. Multiply 17 times the number of employees attending, and you’ve saved a significant amount of time.
Don’t have time to create an agenda before your meetings? Ask a virtual assistant to do it.
Business Meeting Agenda [Example]
Meeting purpose: How to increase online sales
Meeting duration: 60 minutes
Topics to Address and review: 5 minutes
- Review Q1 and Q2 sales figures
- Discuss challenges causing decrease in online sales
- Review digital marketing efforts and lead generation
Topic 1: Review Q1 and Q2 sales figures (15 minutes)
Topic 2: Discuss challenges causing decrease in online sales (15 minutes)
Topic 3: Review digital marketing efforts and lead generation (15 minutes)
Action items and next steps: (5 mins)
- Dave, Mary, and Lewis will work on A/B testing of new landing pages
- Joann's team will work on new lead generation assets
- Alex will work on upselling strategies
- Sarah will share meeting notes and confirm takeaways with stakeholders within three hours of meeting end
3. Tell stories
People remember stories better than simple facts.
The London School of Business reports people retain only about 5-10% of the statistics they hear. When you couple those statistics with an image, retention increases to about 25%. When statistics are presented with a story, retention jumps as high as 70%.
That’s likely because facts engage only the language portion of our brains while stories engage multiple parts of our brain at the same time. Stories activate the part of our brains that would have been involved if we had actually experienced the story ourselves.
Not only does a story put our entire brain to work, it helps both teller and hearer to synchronize their brains because they’re experiencing the same story at the same time.
Stories can help the teller “plant” an idea in the minds of the audience, which can be a powerful tool in the context of a business meeting. Authentic stories establish rapport and create emotional connections between people.
If the content of your meeting is important enough to warrant calling a meeting, it’s important enough to help your team retain it. Tell stories to help them remember and understand.
4. Change the scenery
Meetings can be repetitive and boring, which can hamper productivity. When your team gets comfortable with its surroundings, they may disengage and check out.
Shake things up by moving your meeting to a different location. Changing the environment can break up cliques and disrupt routine, which encourages creativity.
Steve Jobs was famous for having walking meetings -- great when the meeting is one-on-one or includes only a few individuals.
New locations also prompt people to be more alert to the unfamiliar surroundings, which ultimately means more engagement.
Move your meeting to a new place in the building or a local coffee shop. Occasionally schedule an off-site meeting that will bring your team together and encourage personalized communication.
Change your setting to increase engagement and encourage productivity.
If changing the scenery isn’t an option, alter the meeting by standing instead of sitting.
Psychologists suggest that stand-up meetings promote productivity by keeping participants more engaged and focused. Standing discourages long meetings by keeping team members from being too comfortable or relaxed.
Melissa Dahl of New York Magazine reported that stand-up meetings can reduce meeting times by 34%. Simply speaking, standing encourages the team to be productive and efficient, and it also combats drowsiness during gatherings.
It’s worth noting, too, that those who wish to command attention during meetings typically stand to do so. In this setting, you’re already standing, so you’ll naturally command more attention.
As an added bonus, since sitting can negatively impact metabolism, it’s healthier for your team to stand briefly than to sit for an entire day.
Productive Business Meetings Guard Your Bottom Line
Business meetings directly impact your bottom line in a couple of different ways.
When they are effective and efficient, they help your employees accomplish the company’s goals, improve your bottom line, and scale your business -- it’s like outsourcing an administrative task and immediately reaping the rewards. If they aren’t effective, they commandeer your employees’ attention and keep them from accomplishing the tasks that will generate revenue for your company.
Honor your employees’ time by keeping your meetings brief and only involving the employees whose attendance is required. Stick to a plan and avoid letting the discussion stray off your stated goal.
Use stories to convey your message to team members and change your meeting scenery to keep your employees from being too comfortable or too habitual.
When your meetings are efficient and effective, they’ll be more productive and less costly. Your employees will reap the benefits and they’ll be happy to attend future meetings.
When that happens, everyone wins.