Throughout my professional life I think meetings have been one of the biggest sources of frustration. I’m one of those people who really likes to work at work and while I do find some meetings very useful, and the occasional meeting totally necessary, I think the majority of meetings I’ve attended over the years could be done away with.

Or at least done better.

I wanted to take a stab at offering up some tips to get more out of meetings in general. These come from years of being frustrated by useless meetings and a true desire to help people get the most out of their work day. If you’ve got more tips, please add them in the comments.

h3. How To Get The Most Out Of Your Meetings

# Don’t call a meeting unless you have to. Make sure–really sure–that the meeting is needed.
# Invite only those people who will get something out of the meeting. This goes for recurring meetings too. Only have people come if they are going to contribute and/or get something out of the meeting.
# Have a detailed agenda. If you think you’re meeting doesn’t need one. you might think about not having the meeting. I like to have time limited attached to each item as well as it helps keep people from wandering off-topic.
# Schedule your meetings at least a few days in advance to make sure everyone has time to prepare. Hastily planned meetings are a no-no.
# Cancel your meeting if you think you no longer need to have it or if everyone is not prepared. Never, I repeat, never have a meeting just for the sake of having it.
# Start on time.
# Set a time limit. Then think about cutting it in half. If you think you want an hour meeting, try a half-an-hour. I’ve found that if you plan for longer you’ll just end up wasting time. For some reason people think that an hour is “standard duration” for a meeting. Sometimes half of that is just fine and it can force you to get down to business.
# Have a leader. Every meeting should have a leader who can hold everyone involved accountable to keeping things on track.
# Stick to the agenda. If you want to chit-chat at the start of the meeting–put that into the agenda.
# End your meeting on time. Use a timer if you need to and resist the temptation to go over.

These tips will apply to many meetings, but of course there are exceptions. The bottom-line here is that meetings should be held only when they’re constructive and make good use of everyone’s time and that they should be prepared well in advance to make sure everyone gets the best use of their time.

16 Comments on 10 Steps To Better Meetings

  1. NathanB says:

    11. If some people don’t need to be there for the whole meeting, structure the agenda so people can exit when appropriate.

    12. Make most meetings and presentations optional. If nobody thinks your meeting is important, maybe it isn’t. Voluntary attendees will be more engaged and the meeting will be productive.

  2. “Schedule your meetings at least a few days in advance to make sure everyone has time to prepare. Hastily planned meetings are a no-no.”

    On top of having a few days for preparation, make sure people actually prepare. One of the worst, yet commonplace experiences I have is when people seem to be looking at the problem for the first time during the meeting. This leads to comments/suggestions that are voiced without much thought. Oftentimes, due to group think these not too good suggestions are then implemented due to uncontrollable head bobbing by other unprepared members.

    Great post by the way. Meetings are also my kryptonite.

  3. Good points here…thanks!

    I would do away with meetings all together I think! Technology has helped a lot in dispersing information to groups of people, something the f2f meeting used to do.

    However, I do appreciate seeing my colleagues (who are dispersed across campuses) at our regular team meetings, but…how could this be made more effective? I think working on a more specific agenda would be a good starting point for us!

    Often it seems having meetings means some sort of decision making should take place, or at the very least lead to action (that is recorded and followed up on!).

  4. Kesav M says:

    Thank you for this – it’s very true that most meetings are a waste. A couple things my college professor once taught me that I think could be added:

    1) When you set an agenda, put all the ‘decision items’ first, ‘discussion items’ last. Make sure the meeting has a purpose, fulfill that purpose, then allow an open discussion for people who want to stay.

    2) Always send out the agenda days, weeks, or months before a meeting. In doing so, you anticipate and hopefully eliminate unpreparedness on behalf of your associates.

    3) Set a weekly/monthly meeting time, so that people know to keep that space free on their calender. But be willing to cancel liberally. That way you get the best of both worlds.

  5. Tom Biggs says:

    I had a boss who hated status meetings as much as we on his team did. I don’t know if the idea was his or if he saw it somewhere, but he implemented this for project status meetings:

    Three people took on “roles”. These roles were rotated every week.
    1. Leader: Read each new “todo” item from the list (this todo list was kept in Outlook and served as our agenda). Turn to the person who “owns” the item and ask for a quick report on the current state of the item.
    2. Secretary/recorder – log a summary of those reports, update the todo list after the meeting.
    3. “Sargeant-At-Arms” – had nearly unlimited authority to cut off any rambling or off-topic discussions. The rankest newbie on the team was able to cut off anyone – even the boss – if they had to. Those involved in off- or side-topic discussions were told to have their own quick meeting on it afterwards. If it was a truly new topic, it was immediately added to the todo list.

    Rotating the “roles” prevented one person from getting stuck as recorder, and everyone loved to be Sargeant-At-Arms, ‘cuz it was just too much fun.

    Everyone was requested to scan the todo list twice a week – before the meeting, so you’d think what you would report about your items, and mid-week, to keep on track. The todo list served as the only agenda, and the updated todo list was the only product of the meeting. (no lengthy “here’s what we talked about” followup memos.)

    The boss’s goal was to cut our weekly status meeting down to 30 minutes. It only took about three meetings for us to meet that goal. And there was much rejoicing…

  6. Hmm, my tendency is to never call a meeting for anything, and just try to decide everything myself. What I need to work on is figuring out when other people might like to have a say in what I’m doing, and call meetings then.

    I like design meetings – it can be very interesting debating about implementation and how to code something. And I rather like going off on tangents.

    Of course, it’s only fun if you’re actually interested in the subject of the meeting or if you’re somehow directly involved. If neither of those is true, I try to avoid those meetings.

    I don’t have a lot of boring meetings in my current job – I think it comes with being a tiny company. The more constant communication going on, the less formal meetings you’ll need.

    Moral: don’t work for boring big companies?

  7. Michael says:

    If meetings tend to be notoriously long meet at a place where people can’t sit down and do the meeting whilst everyone is standing. My experience is that everything is being solved in a fraction of the usual time. And especially some people that enjoy hearing themselves talking too much suddenly get down to the point really fast. Try it – it works.

  8. Net Roundup

    I’ll be traveling today to the Outlaws (the Unknown Father-In-Law and the Unknown Mother-In-Law). Since we head out shortly, I thought I’d “flush the buffer” and do a quick list of some interesting posts I’ve seen recently:

  9. says:

    10 Steps To Better Meetings

    Keith over To-Done has dropped down ten steps to get most out of meeting. Let me mention couple points which I think are key factors for effective meeting in here:

    Invite only those people who will get something out of the meeting.: This is the mos…

  10. Frank Reingold says:

    If you’re into podcasts, the folks at Manager Tools ( have a good podcast on meetings. If I remember right, it’s one of 2 or 3 in a series.

  11. Frank – Great link!

    I have flipped through their accompanying PDF for the meetings podcast session ( and have realized they suggest one other element to a meeting…the use of a “Parking Lot”.

    The Parking Lot acts as a place at the end of the meeting to be able to discuss anything not on the agenda or issues that may be off-topic but directly related to agenda items. Just remember that you’ll want to make sure this part of the meeting process also has a time limit, usually something like 5 minutes.

  12. Duane says:

    3. Have a detailed agenda. If you think you’re meeting doesn’t need one. you might think about not having the meeting. I like to have time limited attached to each item as well as it helps keep people from wandering off-topic.

    I think that agenda has to be coupled with a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished in the meeting as well, which is not the same thing. If you start the meeting with a question like “How are we going to solve the X problem?” then it might not be possible to break it into 15 minute increments, march through them, and declare the problem solved at the end of an hour. It’s very important in these situations for the team leader (point #8) to be on the lookout for crucial anchor points that open up where you can regroup the conversation and attempt to move it forward instead of spending all your time going over the same old ground.

    “We still haven’t solved X yet, but can everybody here agree on Y? Yes? Ok, good. Y noted. Let’s move on assuming that Y will be true.”

    At the end of the meeting, then, you may not be able to guarantee that X has been answered, but you have measurable progress toward the goal.

  13. 10 Steps To Better Meetings

    D. Keith Robinson posted some great tips about keeping meetings on track.

    Don’t call a meeting unless you have to. Make sure—really sure—that the meeting is needed.
    Invite only those people who will get something out of the meeting. T…

  14. Happy Links

    Wired forecasts the future Will everyone be an entrepreneur? 2015: The Web continues to evolve from a world ruled by mass media and mass audiences to one ruled by messy media and messy participation… in the near future, everyone alive

  15. beza1e1 says:

    Your company does have a mission statement, doesn’t it? Plan one or two minutes at the beginning, where the leader repeats this vision and perhaps other general things. This helps to prevent too much diversity in discussions.

    I once led a group, which met weekly. Each week i began with our mission statement. I would not have thought, but each week, at least one person had not yet heared or yet forgotten our vision.

  16. LAR says:

    Something I’ve always remembered punctuated the most productive meetings I’ve ever attended. During the closing ‘discussion’ segment, anyone present was permitted to express an opinion or point out a problem. But, to keep us on point and avoid a whine party, 2 rules applied:
    1) Constructive criticism only.
    2) A viable solution(s) had to be offered by the person presenting a problem.
    Voila! An egalitarian meeting that often resulted in unique ideas and procedures. As an added bonus, in later meetings, the competitive factor kicked in, resulting in ever more innovative solutions and ideas.
    Hey, what more could management ask?

Leave a Reply