Given how poorly they’re often put together, it’s easy to forget that meetings are supposed to be useful. Instead, they can feel like matters of obligation — wearying efforts to tick some bureaucratic boxes and keep management happy. Just think about how many hours are wasted in meetings across the globe on a daily basis, and how that time could be used effectively.
If you fear that your meetings aren’t quite as succinct as they could be, then it’s probably a good time to start making some changes. To help you figure out where you’re going wrong, let’s take a look at 6 ways in which people often waste time in meetings:
Making rambling speeches
Whether stemming from the head of the company trying to rally the troops, or an under-pressure employee eager to show some initiative, you can easily run into the kind of freewheeling speech that drags on for an eternity. Peppered with “um”, “ah” and lengthy pauses, it starts nowhere, goes nowhere, and ends far too late.
How do you get rid of these speeches? It’s simple: you require everyone speaking to have a set of talking points prepared. If you’re absolutely confident about the abilities of a particular speaker, you can give them a pass — but if they start to take up too much time, step in and shut the speech down instead of letting it linger.
Discussing life events
What did you do at the weekend? How are the kids? What are your golfing plans for the next year? What superpower would you like to have? Each of these is a perfectly fine question for a social gathering, or even a communal lunch at work, but not particularly useful in a meeting.
Team morale is important, yes, particularly in a time of digital nomads — you might have employees that rarely see each other, so you don’t want a meeting to feel 100% cold and sterile. But there’s a vast gulf between allowing a light tone (with the occasional joke) and letting people chat away about things totally unrelated to work.
Do people’s personal lives matter in the context of the working world? Yes, to some extent. Happy employees are productive employees, so it’s definitely worth hearing about what people are up to after they clock out — just discuss those things between tasks, or at work socials.
Taking redundant notes
You’ve probably seen it before: a large group of employees heading into a meeting room, each one carrying a laptop and/or notepad. Throughout the meeting, each point from the boss leads to furious scrawling and typing as everyone seeks to record it for posterity. And between points, people make edits, restructuring their notes and end laying the foundation for subsequent notes.
This slows everything down. It slows down the person speaking, since they must wait for everyone to have finished their notes before they resume. It slows down comprehension, because people are too busy writing down what’s been said to actually listen to it. And, of course, it’s hilariously redundant to have everyone write the same notes.
How do you fix it? You make one person responsible for producing minutes and turning them into action items after the meeting has concluded. No one else may bring in a notepad or laptop (unless they need the latter to present something).
Being asleep (or half-asleep)
The speaker is in the middle of a point when they notice that Hopkins from Accounting appears to have drifted away into dreamland. This distracts them, and they stop to wake him up before continuing — but he’s drowsy and barely cognizant for the rest of the meeting. When it comes to a close, he trudges away, only vaguely aware of where he actually is.
Does this mean Hopkins is unprofessional? To some extent, sure, but maybe he should never have been invited to the meeting in the first place — or maybe the meeting is unbelievably dull. Not only should you schedule meetings for times when people are most alert, but you should also stick to guests who need to be there, and let them guide the format to some extent.
Asking needless questions
During your career, have you ever felt out of place in a meeting? Eager to prove that you have something to contribute, but not entirely confident that you have anything worth saying? It’s quite a common scenario, and it can go one of two ways: the out-of-place person can stay quiet and let things continue as normal, or they can just say whatever pops into their mind.
While the latter approach will occasionally produce a flash of real insight, it mostly just leads to unnecessary or outright-stupid questions being posed (some contend that there are no stupid questions, but I disagree). Those questions are then either shot down, either politely or impolitely (either way takes time), or answered, which takes time and annoys people.
To combat this, let everyone know that all questions must be held until the end. That way, if someone does come up with a question truly worth asking, they’ll still want to ask it when the meeting is over — and if you get any truly worthless questions, you can simply ignore them and end the meeting without causing any disruption.
Struggling with technology
Plug in the HDMI lead. Unplug it. Plug it in again. Shake it slightly. Try (and fail) to access the source menu. This frustrating process of trying to diagnose and rectify a technological issue invariably results from one (or both) of two things on the part of the presenter: a complete lack of preparation, and a determination to hide their lack of technical prowess.
If you’re not entirely confident in connecting your laptop to a projector, don’t do it. Have someone else do it for you, or have it set up ahead of time so all you have to do is click the mouse button. In addition, keep your presentation short, or don’t bother with it at all — there’s an excellent chance that you’d get better results by sending out the file afterwards.
Meetings should be snappy and productive: otherwise, they just eat into time that would be much better spent getting regular work done. The next time you hold a meeting, pay close attention to everything that slows it down — then mercilessly trim the fat.