Join me in stamping out torture by meetings

A study out of the UK tells us the average office worker spends around 16 hours a week in meetings. That’s more than 200 hours a year, or over the course of a career, 9,000 hours and counting spent holed up in a meeting room. I’ve not found similar statistics for the nonprofit sector, but my experience tells me it’s more of the same. Wherever two or three gather, there are meetings. Lots of meetings.

Experience also tells me that a majority of those meetings are poorly run, dreadfully boring, and absent a clear purpose. If you’ve ever wanted to run screaming from the room mid-way into a rambling agenda, welcome to the club. Board members, CEOs, staff, and volunteers, we’ve all experienced torture by meetings.

Enough is enough. It’s time to put a stop to the misery.

stick_figure_on_top_6445To that end, I’m happy to pass along my favorites from a list of “11 tips for having great meetings from some of the world’s most productive people.” It comes from the folks over at FastCompany and  features advice from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Nilofer Merchant and others who know about getting things done, being productive, and keeping a crowd engaged.”

You can check out all 11 pointers here. For now, I’ve chosen to focus on the following four:

  • Keep it novel. Richard Branson, Virgin founder, advocates for adding novelty to freshen up meetings. He invites thought-provoking speakers in diverse fields from astronomy to nanotechnology to get groups thinking in ‘new, exploratory ways.’
  • Push pause. The next time you find yourself rushing wildly from one meeting to the next, stop. That’s the advice of Clay Shirky, an author who covers the social, economic, and cultural effects of the Internet.  ‘Time taken to pause,’ he writes, ‘even if it is a few seconds, can be valuable. It could be the difference between a good idea and a great idea in your next meeting.’
  • Say it in 5 words. Christopher Frank, an author and vice president at American Express, suggests starting meetings by asking each person to articulate in five words or less the purpose for which you’ve gathered. ‘By clearly articulating the issue,’ Frank wrote in an article for Forbes, ‘you will get a good idea of the information you need, the people you should talk to, and will ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.’ (If you have a few minutes to spare before your next meeting, read Frank’s article. It’s chock-full of great ideas.)
  • Think like a director. Patrick Lencioni, president of The Table Group, a management consulting firm, and the author of Death by Meeting, believes that the cure for boring and unproductive meetings is to think of them as if you were a movie director. He suggests replacing ‘agendas and decorum with passion and conflict.’ This will engage people and give them something to care about.

I encourage you to give these tips a try. Together, we can put an end to torture by meetings.

For more on the topic of meeting planning, see:

Seven steps to a well-crafted meeting agenda

Strategies for avoiding meddling by meeting

A five-step cure for boredom in the boardroom

What's your take on this topic?

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