Wednesday, 28 March 2012 01:02

Stop Taking my Time! 17 Tips for Avoiding Meeting Madness

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Are meetings taking up far too much of your work life? Feeling frustrated by poorly planned meetings or Chairpeople not controlling the participants? Feel like the meetings you attend are directionless or out of control? Are you often wondering why you were invited to the meeting at all?

If I had a dollar for every time a Manager or supervisor told me they spent too much time in meetings, I would be a very rich man. Meetings have become an essential part of doing business in the modern world; but why are so many of them poorly managed? A poor meeting has normally been caused by one of 3 key areas being handled poorly: planning & preparation, meeting leadership, and meeting processes & guidelines.

Planning and preparation. An unplanned meeting is almost doomed from the start. While most people know to prepare an agenda, consider the following tips for clear meeting planning:

Tip 1 - Do you need a meeting? Meetings are a great way to get everyone together and drive consensus or reach a decision, but they take time and planning to be successful.  Could you outline a discussion via email and get people to email replies. Could your item be discusses between two people informally? If so, don’t waste your time or others by organizing a meeting.

Tip 2 - Agenda. Have a clear outline not only of what you are going to discuss, but what you want to achieve. What is the purpose of the meeting? Is this a meeting to come to a decision or to update on progress? Ensure your participants know what the purpose of the meeting is before arrival.

Tip 3 - Timeframe. How long is your meeting going to take? Nothing frustrates participants more than a meeting that starts late or ends late. Only slightly less frustrating is the meeting planned for an hour that only needs 10 minutes. Respect people’s time and consider the appropriate length of your meeting. How long will each agenda item take? Display the approx. length of time for the meeting on the agenda so people know what areas will be quick and what needs to be discussed in depth. To speed up the process, consider sending out complex information or Powerpoint presentations before the meeting. Don't waste everyone's time reading things that could be done before hand - use the meeting for genuine discussion.

Tip 4 - Attendees. A senior IT Manager told me recently that the most frustrating thing he finds with meetings is only have a small part of the meeting relevant for him. The best meeting he attended involved the convenor of the meeting advising him of what time his required topic would be addressed, then letting him leave once it was discussed. 'I was so grateful because I had a huge deadline to meet that day’ he said. In your email / communication advising of the meeting, tell each attendee what components they are there for and what decisions they need to make. If the person can’t attend and has to send a replacement, at least they know what decisions (and what level of person) is required in their place.


Meeting leadership. All meetings need someone to guide them or control them. Even brainstorming meetings, when everyone should contribute ideas, needs someone to keep it on track. Consider the following tips for chairing a meeting:

Tip 5 - Outline. At the start of the meeting, outline the core objectives, expected outcomes and time constraints. To paraphrase Stephen Covey ,'begin with the end in mind'.

Tip 6 - Introduce everyone. This doesn’t have to be a laboured ‘get to know you’ session, but it is important for everyone in the meeting to know who they are talking to and where they are from and why they are attending.

Tip 7 - Champion the quiet people. In every meeting, there will be people more willing to voice their opinion than others. It is a poor chair that assumes that the quieter people have nothing to say – they may be too polite to raise their point, worry about being spoken over or may just be considering what has been discussed. Ensure that the quieter people have an opportunity to engage without being condescending.

Tip 8 - Hold people to time. If the meeting was marked for one hour, do your best to keep it to one hour. That means keeping a check on the time throughout the meeting, not just in the last five minutes. If you find keeping time distracting while following the discussion, ensure someone else in the meeting can update you.

Tip 9 - Play the ball, not the man. Excuse the football reference, but it is the Chairperson’s job to ensure that everyone is treated fairly in the meeting and that the discussion doesn’t turn personal. Passionate discussion and alternative points of view bring excellent results for meeting; insults and personal references do not. It can be very easy for one to turn into the other if a meeting is not controlled well.

Tip 10 - Confirm understanding. Recently, I walked out of a meeting and discussed one point with another participant. It was like we were at two completely different meetings! I thought we were discussing white and he was convinced it was black. A good leader of a meeting will summarise the points discussed and confirm understanding. The will also confirm what decision was reached if one was made. One Manager I worked with asked the question: ‘What are you going to tell your staff about the point we just discussed?’ and asked everyone for their responses. Through that discussion eight different versions of the topic were combined to a single message. Clever.

Tip 11 - Chair the meeting. There is a big difference between chairing the meeting and running the meeting. A chair guides the discussion and ensures ensures all people are included. Running the meeting involved pushing your own agenda and forcing the outcome in a particular direction. 

Processes and Guidelines. The greatest excuse used in business for poor meetings is that ‘it has always been done that way’. Poor meeting formats often start from the top down, and most people know the basics for running a good meeting, poor practices are rarely challenged. Here are some of the processes and guidelines that should be challenged for a good meeting (Note: before taking some of these actions, you should really tell people that this is what you are going to do. No one likes to be unprepared for change):

Tip 12 - Lateness. Who has turned up to a 10am meeting only to wait 15 minutes while other attendees show up? Or a Manager who walks in late and expects to brought up to speed on what has been covered so far? This has a simple solution – if the meeting starts at 10am, begin at 10.01am – no excuses. Arriving late shows disrespect for the time of everyone else in the room and wastes a lot of time. Do the math – 10 minutes late x 3 meetings a week x 40 weeks a year = 1200 minutes or 20 hours – per person!

Tip 13 - Read the Minutes Prior to Arrival. Don’t waste time reviewing all of the items from the previous meeting; that should be done prior to arrival. Just confirm action items have been completed. Not reading the prior minutes demonstrates a lack of preparation.

Tip 14 - Assign Action Items. After an item has been discussed, there is normally some follow up or action that needs to take place. Ensure that someone is assigned to the task, they have the ability and authority to do it, and set a date for completion. Don’t take the easy route and say that it needs to be completed by the next meeting. If you meet monthly but the task only takes a week, set the completion date for one week – and then check that it is done after that week. Checking completion at the next meeting just shows that you didn’t care.

Tip 15 - Nameplates. Not needed for small meetings, but if more than 10 people from different regions meet only once a month, there is a chance they will remember the face and not the name for the first couple of meetings. Help them out and avoid embarrassment.

Tip 16 - Overtalking. Some meeting participants take 1000 words to explain what 10 words would do. Encourage participants to avoid this – you can mention it at the start of your meetings. Two businesses I worked with came up with two different but effective solutions:

            Solution 1 – Meeting Guidelines. A laminated set of meeting guidelines were attached to the meeting room door – everyone had to read them prior to entry. It referred to timeliness, politeness and brevity. If someone wasn’t adhering to the guidelines, others would point in the direction of the sign on the door.

            Solution 2 – SUMO Cards. As amusing as it sounds, I walked into a meeting where everyone was handed a little laminated sumo picture attached to a stick. SUMO stood for ‘Shut Up, Move On’ and was raised when someone was overtalking a point. Controversial – yes. Amusing – yes! Could it work in your business? It might seem childish, but in this business it made light of a big problem that was systemic throughout all meetings.

Tip 17 - Be consistent. Applying these rules for one meeting and not the next will ensure frustration amongst your workmates. Applied consistently, the people around you will be thankful for treating them with respect, both of their opinions and their time.


Consider the 17 tips listed above – is there any that you could improve upon for your next meeting? How much time would you save for yourself and your business? If you have any other tips for saving time and frustration in meetings, we would love to hear them! Please add your comments below.



0902-014 n1 cweb4x6Need help with addressing negativity in your workplace? Having trouble challenging behaviour that stifles creativity? Michael Peiniger is a leadership and team development specialist who helps CEO's and heads of business 'develop leaders' within their organisations. As a specialist facilitator working with the top businesses in the country, he can provide your managers, supervisors and aspiring leaders with the skills, knowledge, behaviour traits and attitudes that will make them successful in challenging negativity in your business. To discuss your needs, call Michael on 0409 627 270, email

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Last modified on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 00:09

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