You know what’s unbearable? A business meeting that’s too long. The sense of time being wasted, the confusion over what happens next.
A study based on 19 million meetings revealed that meetings waste more time and money than ever. How much? A whopping $399 billion.
You know what might be even worse? Meetings that are too short.
Especially if there wasn’t an opportunity to ask a question, or not everyone was there who needed to be when hoping to secure a new customer or sell an existing client or investor on your future vision.
Or just too many meetings in general.
With most of us working from home during the past year, 45% of employees report attending more meetings now than they did before the pandemic.
And they find these meetings mentally exhausting...
How can you maximise and optimise those against-the-clock meetings?
Those experiences are teaching us a lot – so we have some tips. We haven’t perfected it though so let us know some of your top tips that we might not be doing yet!
Now, time’s a-wastin’, so let’s get down to the first item.
How long should a meeting be?
The optimal length for any meeting is worth discussing.
And really, the answer to this is dependant on you: on what you want to get from the meeting, on how many people are in it, even on how much value you put on the getting-to-know-you icebreakers.
This calculator by Harvard Business Review is a really valuable way to work out the cost of a meeting – and a decent reminder of why the tips below might prove so useful.
After 45 minutes, more than one-third of the people in a meeting aren’t paying proper attention.
One thing that we will say: in a business meeting that lasts 15 minutes or less, close to 10% of people already aren’t paying proper attention.
Imagine what that figure becomes when a meeting drags on.
Actually, don’t imagine, we’ll tell you. After 45 minutes, you’ve lost more than one-third of the people in the meeting.
So be blunt with yourself. Could you trim your meetings down? Instead of talking about something in the room, would a follow-up Slack chat or email be more efficient?
Schedule for success
Don’t forget the work pattern of the person you’re meeting. If you’ve only got a few minutes with them, you want to come at a time when you have their full attention.
“Even though everyone has a slightly different productivity curve throughout the day — avoid booking important meetings right before lunch or at the end of the day, if you can”, says Ruta Thottakara, our Brand Marketing Lead.
Research shows that people tend to be less focused when they're tired or hungry, and decision-making quality decreases.
A woman who knows just a thing or two about running highly collaborative meetings, Ruta continues with setting the structure.
“Make sure to familiarise all attendees with the structure of the meeting. Things like: should all questions be kept for the end? Or are interruptions a welcome way to correct the course of conversation towards the most relevant topics?”
And most importantly – does everyone know the objective of the meeting?
“You can even start by stating 'why are we here’. Is there a decision to be made? Make sure to drive to that outcome as the meeting progresses.”
“The worst thing that can happen after an ineffective meeting is the need to have a follow-up meeting on the same subject as the next step instead of action.”
Even better? Have someone take notes during the meeting with clear written next steps to share with everyone involved afterwards.
Mind the gap
And while we’re on scheduling and structure, leave a gap between those key meetings.
You might be tempted to ride the wave and carry your energy from one meeting into another.
But really your brain needs time to cool down and digest what just happened – how else are you going to identify what’s working and what isn’t?
To help people structure their days, and leave time for productive, focused work, we’ve introduced Pleo Time.
Pleo Time is where we carve out two internal meeting-free slots on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 to 12:30 CET.
It’s our way to facilitate focus time that people may need in order to work on that project they're passionate about or finish admin that they’ve been pushing to the end of their list.
It also encourages us to consider how we think about meetings at Pleo.
“Pleo Time allows you to just focus on one specific task. Slack is down. Email is down. No one is bothering you. So you can actually be more productive”, says Aiyana Scully Moorhead, our Country Manager for Spain.
“When we implement new initiatives like this, it gives us the opportunity to revisit and rethink how we’re running the day and how effective we are.”
Set the agenda
With some business meetings, an agenda just doesn’t feel right. Nobody requires a clear structure for a get-together that’s just intended to spitball some ideas or is focused on quickly discussing one key issue.
An agenda can cut the length of some meetings by 80%.
For every other meeting, you should absolutely consider having an agenda.
It can cut the amount of time spent in the meeting by around 80%, according to some research.
It keeps things on track and stops people wondering if specific issues are going to be brought up.
For people who don’t love speaking (not guilty), the idea the spotlight might unexpectedly hit them can be really terrifying.
Can you get out of the office?
A way to really make a splash with limited time is to get out of the office.
When we’re introducing Pleo to new customers, we love to take them for a coffee and show them how our cards work in the real world.
It makes it all so much more tangible, so much more memorable.
Could you do something similar?
Getting out of the meeting room also makes time slots a bit more elastic, so you might win a few more minutes to get your point across.
Who should be there?
One of the best jokes in the movie In The Loop involves one character being invited to a meeting just so he can be “meat in the room”.
He’s there to make the meeting look well-attended, something loads of people want to be at.
Our advice? Try to avoid having any meat in the room. Make sure everyone at the meeting adds value.
Often, a meeting needs fewer people. But would adding people help? Sometimes.
That doesn’t just mean cutting people off the invite list though. It means asking yourself if maybe people should be added to your one-to-one with a client.
Let’s say a business wants a customer to renew a contract.
Are they more likely to sign up if it’s just them and their account manager?
Or could someone from your Product Marketing or Development team add some special sauce to proceedings?
Could their CFO or Head of People be present too, if their final sign-off is vital?
Introducing yourself ≠ talking about yourself
A lot of leaders and managers already feel swamped by how many business meetings they have to get through.
So if you’re doing the decent thing and trying to keep it short for them, don’t waste more time than is absolutely necessary telling them who you are.
Instead, show them that you’re curious about their company, their interests.
Ask them what they want
Forget waiting until the end of the meeting to cram in questions.
Instead, flip it – ask what’s on their mind at the beginning and let their questions indicate what’s crucial to cover.
“Normally they’ll have one or two questions, and that’s where you know to focus,” says Ruta.
“It also shows you’re respectful and know how to spend time on what’s truly important to them.”
And avoid long monologues – especially if you’re the one leading the meeting.
“If you’re pitching or presenting something you’re passionate about, it can be tempting to over-explain. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of your audience at all times.”
“Discussion and dialogue should take up the biggest space of the meeting – make sure to leave sufficient time for it.”
Stay human, not “on topic”
Just because you’re up against the clock doesn’t mean you should stop the conversation flowing.
Nobody ever wants to feel like they’re “in a process”.
If the person you’re meeting is straying off topic a little, don’t rush them “back on track”. There are few quicker ways to make someone feel they’re in a process and that you’re hurrying them.
Instead, try to organically connect what they’re talking about back to the critical point of the meeting.
Always agree what happens next
It’s a lot of work, right?
Getting to the meeting, dealing with questions, letting the conversation flow naturally, ensuring there’s nothing you’ve missed.
So don’t let all that work come to nothing.
At the end of the meeting, whether it’s been five minutes or an hour, establish what happens next.
Who’s going to contact who? Who needs to have input before a decision is made? When will they know?
Lock that down and then take a breath, you’ve earned it.