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8 hacks for more productive meetings

Derek Homann

Keeping meetings productive is a constant struggle for a lot of companies. How do you ensure that the attendees of your meeting are actually getting some benefit out of being in a meeting as opposed to back at their desk cranking on their daily work? We’ve compiled 8 of our favorite meetings hacks to make your meetings more efficient and productive.

Hack #1: Don’t even have the meeting

Ok, ok, we know that’s a bit of a cop-out, but hear us out. Do you really need to have that meeting? Could it have been an email instead? Can you justify the cost of having the meeting (e.g. the cost of everyone’s hourly salary X # of attendees)? If not, then you might want to send an email or Slack message instead. We aren’t the only ones who like this hack. Harvard Business Review has famously created a flow chart to determine if you need a meeting. Before you click send on the meeting invite, run through this flowchart in your head first.

should I hold a meeting flowchart

Hack #2 Write a list of items that need to be achieved in the meeting and attach it to the agenda ahead of time

By clearly laying out the list of items that need to be accomplished ahead of time, you are making it crystal clear whether you accomplished the purpose of the meeting when it’s over. Did you make a list of 5 items that need to be addressed before the meeting start? If so, did all 5 of those items get covered in the meeting? If so, then congrats! The meeting was a success. If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board for next time to determine how you can ensure that all your items get covered in your next meeting.

Hack #3 Set the meeting for right before lunch or at the very end of the day

If your meetings have a tendency to go long, you might need to have a little extra motivation to get the meeting done on time. If folks tend to eat lunch at Noon, or head out the door at five o’clock, then set your meeting to end at that time. People tend to be extra focused on achieving the goals set forth in the meeting when they realize the only thing standing between them and heading out for the day is your meeting. Just remember to be careful that the team isn’t just “phoning it in” to get the meeting done without regards to making sure they have quality participation.

Hack #4 Make it a standing meeting

When we say standing meeting, we don’t mean have the meeting every single day. What we mean is that you have all the participants stand instead of sit. This meeting works best for very short (15 mins or less) touch-base meetings or daily standups. If you implement it in 30+ minute meetings, that could be a bit of a cruel punishment. When everyone is standing, they’ll tend to stray off topic less and get to the point. We do encourage you to chat with other members of the team prior to these meetings though to determine they are comfortable standing. If there are members of your team who may have problems standing for long periods of time or have health considerations that you need to take into account, you may want to avoid this one.

Hack #5 Send out pre-read material

It can be a pretty big waste of time to spend a portion of your meeting bringing some attendees up to speed on previous decisions, or work that has already been done on a project. If that work is documented somewhere already, make sure it’s included in the meeting invite and encourage every attendee to read through so they can be prepared to help make decisions or intelligently brainstorm ideas. It may sound corny, but “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” (ugh, my high school math teacher was right, wasn’t she?).

Hack #6 Tell people to close their computers

Computers are great and we couldn’t do our job without them, but when you are in a meeting with a bunch of other people, your attention should be on that actual meeting. If you are the meeting organizer, start the meeting by telling folks to close their laptops except for the person assigned to take notes. It will help make sure everyone is fully engaged and not distracted. This is obviously not doable when you are on a video conference, but we’ve found that just explicitly acknowledging the idea that attendees should not stray from paying attention to the meeting at hand at the beginning of the meeting will definitely help somewhat.

Hack #7 Set aside time for summarizing the outcome of the meeting at the end

Sometimes some of the key outcomes that have been decided on in a meeting can get lost during the course of the meeting. At the end of the meeting, set aside 5-10 minutes to quickly recap the decisions that were made during the meeting. It can be something as simple as this: “To summarize the items we talked about today, Jeff is going to follow up with our vendor to see if we can get a discount for signing a longer-term deal. Ashley is going to put together a metrics overview dashboard that she will send out to everyone in this meeting before we meet again next week. Erica is going to meet with the marketing team and determine if our target launch date of July 1st will work for them, and I will work with the PR team to craft our blog post announcing our new partnership. Does that sound good to everyone?”

By summarizing the meeting in this way, it’s crystal clear of the outcomes and next steps that came out of the meeting. 

Hack #8 Use a timer to keep each presenter on track

One of the biggest issues of many meetings is when one of the earlier presenters goes way over their time for their topic, and the presenters at the end have to cover their items in half the time they were allotted. A good way to combat this is to display a timer for all attendees and item topics so it becomes clear to everyone when the presenter knows it’s about time to wrap up. 

Do you have any meeting hacks to help make your meetings more productive? If so, drop them in the comments below. We’d love to hear them!

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