How to Have Better Meetings

A seasoned executive coach tells us how to make our meetings less frequent and more efficient.

What’s worse than a half-hour meeting that turns into a two-hour meeting? A half-hour meeting about a topic that could’ve been resolved via email. Or a meeting in which you leave the conference room feeling like nothing has been accomplished. Make it your 2016 workplace resolution to have better, less frequent, more effective meetings—renowned executive coach Jim Kochalka is here to help.

Have Better Meetings

1. Invite the right people

Carefully consider who you invite to the meeting—invite only the people who are truly necessary for accomplishing the meeting’s purpose. Not only will doing so prevent meetings from wasting people’s time unnecessarily, but it’ll also make the meeting more efficient by avoiding putting too many cooks in the kitchen. Think of it this way: If you’ve got eight people in a two-hour meeting, that’s like using sixteen hours of paid time to discuss a given topic.

2. Define the meeting’s purpose

Meetings generally have one or more of three purposes: they’re either to inform, discuss or decide. If the intent of your meeting is only to inform, and not to discuss the information or make a decision about it, it may be more efficient to present the information via email or on a conference call instead of a meeting.

3. Be realistic in your timing

When making an agenda, consider how much time each item will take to discuss. Often, people underestimate how much time a certain topic will take, which is why meetings always run over.

4. Follow two golden rules

Everyone should honor two simple acronyms in any meeting: WAIT (“Why am I talking?”) and ELMO (“Enough, let’s move on”). “WAIT” eliminates unnecessary distractions and tangents, because it forces people to ask themselves if what they want to say will help achieve the goal of the meeting. “ELMO” prevents that phenomenon we’re all familiar with, in which the team gets stuck on one topic and the meeting runs an hour over before you even know it.

5. Present information effectively

The method in which you present new information should depend on the purpose of the meeting. If you want people to focus on what is directly in front of them, present information on a screen. If you need people to see the big picture, distribute a deck so that they can refer back to certain slides. I like to use a screen to present information and then a whiteboard for real-time comments.

6. Be clear about post-meeting actions

Don’t leave the room without determining what each person is supposed to do next. Decide who will do what, by what deadline. Meetings frequently will hit sticking points where topics are taken “offline” but actually simply die in the room, so disciplined follow-up is important.