How to make a meeting shorter

Everyone hates long meetings right? Well not everyone, and sometimes you need a long meeting to make a big decision or discuss a complex topic. That doesn’t excuse the vast majority of meetings though that are needlessly long. Beset by over enthusiastic attendees who like to hear their own voice, or want to bludgeon you in to their way of thinking. Thankfully there are ways to deal with this and get your meetings down to half the time.

We chair a lot of meetings as regular readers of this blog will know. About 250 board meetings per year and plenty more besides. We have developed a way of working to make sure we get the best of our time and that of the other attendees. It relies on a few specific techniques:

  • Purpose – you don’t necessarily have to write it down, but if people are turning up for a chat then you probably need to give your meeting a clearer name;
  • Clear Agenda – we insist on an agenda published in advance, with an ‘owner’ for each item who prepares something as well as a time budget – even if only used as a guide;
  • Meeting Pack – a consolidated pack of all the pre-prepared material (from the agenda item owners) which is emailed out the evening before the meeting. We use magicminutes to produce this pack automatically for us;
  • Time keeper – once again we use magicminutes to keep time. It tracks the number of minutes spent on each agenda item and goes red when it is over budget. As it also knows the budget times for the remainder of the meeting, it can ‘predict’ what time the meeting will end as well. That certainly sharpens people up!
  • Good minute taker – we project the minute taker’s screen so all the attendees can see what it being said (and what isn’t). This is one of those occasions where a comment like ‘Mr X expanded on the argument for Y in some detail’. Kind of gets the message across without being too rude.

So whilst there is no magic bullet – there are certainly a few things you can try. Give it a go and see if you can halve your meeting times (or get twice as much done).

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