How to run an effective meeting

Approximately 50% of meeting time is wasted. Here’s how you can stop wasting your and other people’s time.

1. Define the type of meeting

What type of meeting is your meeting?

  • Status update — goal is to provide visibility into the status of a project

The type of meeting drives the agenda. Make it crystal clear what the objective of the meeting is, and what you need from the people you are asking time from.

2. Confirm that an email is not sufficient

Think long and hard about whether or not an email would suffice. A well structured email with clear asks to the right people can replace most meetings — especially status updates and information sharing.

Scheduling a meeting is asking people to stop what they are doing and pay attention to something else. Respect their time.

Truth

If you’re not sure, send the email. If people don’t respond or are confused / not aligned, try to understand why. Maybe they did not read it or don’t have the time, in which case remind them. All else fails, set up the meeting.

3. Come prepared and help others

Every second you spend preparing for the meeting has 100x value during the meeting. It will also help show you are a smart and trustworthy individual. Who doesn’t want that?

Prepared means:

  • You have thought deeply about the topic. You have your own thoughts, ideas, conclusions, arguments, frameworks, whatever. You don’t use this meeting to block time to figure out it out — that is taxing to everyone else.

Helping others means:

  • You only invite people that you need to be there (and make it clear they are mandatory). Anyone that you think might want to be there but don’t actually need to be there, don’t invite them — tell them offline that you will share notes. Attending a meeting has nothing to do with status and does not get you promoted. Reducing the number of people is a great way to reduce the number of meetings people have.

4. Stick to the plan

Kick off the meeting reminding everyone of the objective so folks are clear. Break down the components to meet the objective and go through them one by one — structure helps focus.

People love talking. But a meeting is not the time to talk about sports or share your thoughts on a different topic, or repeat what someone else said. That is not cool, it is wasting time. Tips:

  1. If the topic gets side tracked, call it out: “this is an important topic but does not relate to this meeting’s objective / we are not ready to discuss this”, write the new topic on a post-it, and put it on the wall — that is the wall of topics could be discussed offline.

If the right people are not in the room, stop the meeting and reschedule. Otherwise, set sail! You will be surprise how effective a meeting can be when folks are focused and prepared. This helps high velocity decision making which is a strength for any business.

5. Take notes and names

Ensure someone is taking notes in the meeting. If no one is, you are. Meeting notes are essential in having a paper trail of what was discussed, decided, and what are the next steps. Notes can be easily pointed to when disagreements arise or someone wants to understand why a decision was made.

Don’t write an essay or who said what. Stick to the highlights: what was concluded and what were the agreed next steps.

Recap at the end of the meeting and ensure everyone has the same take aways. Every action item should have name and a preliminary timeline. If everyone took the last minutes of a meeting to synthesize their own take, jot down their action items and other things of note, the outcome would be more thoughtful, deliberate and intelligent.

Send out the notes to everyone so they also have a record. Follow up on the thread if people are not delivering on their promises. Celebrate them if they are!

Leave enough time at the end to recap on accomplishments and next steps. Give people enough time to transition to the next meeting (hopefully not).

6. Decline meetings that don’t have this

If you are invited to a meeting that ignores these concepts, decline and send the organizer this article.

Take back your time. Being busy does not mean you are productive. Uninterrupted time is critical to deep, meaningful work.

Walk out of meetings during which you are not adding or getting value. As Elon puts it: “It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time”

Recurring meetings are the worst — replace them with ad hoc meetings that are scheduled on a as-needed basis. This is especially true with 1–1s.

It is easy to put a recurring meeting on the calendar and hard to remove it. People don’t like hurting other people’s feelings by telling them they don’t get any value from the meeting. Help them understand there are other solutions:

  • Improve offline communication — many meetings exist because people want to be kept in the loop. Solve for this by having structured status updates offline to relevant people. Hold them accountable for reading it. Point them to it if they feel excluded. Welcome input.

Managing a meeting is an art form, and it done right can add tremendous value. You have to be inclusive of everyone’s opinion, ensure the meeting stays on track, that the objective of the meeting is met, and that you don’t come off as a a-hole. If it was easy, we wouldn’t have so many terrible meetings. Practice. Give and ask for feedback.

The more productive you are, the more time you will have to do work. Or better yet, get out of work!

I enjoy building products that try to make the world more equal. Head of Product @Ramp.

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