Could Your Meeting Have Been an Email?

Whether in person or virtual, meetings can be draining. Use these meetings best practices to make the most of your workday.

Meeting attendees are asleep and distracted.

Meetings have been the bane of corporate employees. Meetings can be a great time to collaborate, build relationships with teammates, and stay up to date on what’s going on in the company. However, they can also be boring, draining, and wasteful—an estimated $37 billion is wasted on ineffective meetings every year.

So, if you find yourself trying to find a free spot in your team members’ calendars, here are some best practices to keep in mind before you schedule that meeting. With these tips, you can have a more productive meeting and hey, you might even enjoy it.

Ensure that a meeting is indeed worth it

Many employees have sent a direct message to other employees reading “This meeting could have been an email.” If you want to avoid such messages—and avoid wasting people’s time as well—be sure that a meeting is actually required.

Here are some questions you can consider if you’re deciding on holding a meeting:

  • How many people need to give input into this decision?
  • What kinds of responses do I need from team members, and within what time frame?
  • What’s the most concise way of communicating my message?
  • What’s the best channel for me to communicate this? Would other channels such as instant messaging, email, text, or physical printouts might be more effective than a meeting?
  • How would this meeting time impact team members in other time zones?
  • Would this meeting be in person or virtual? If the meeting will be mixed (some people in person, some people on camera), will the people not physically in the room be missing out on any information?

Establish the right meeting length

A LinkedIn poll by Select Health asked followers what the ideal meeting length is. The answer options were 30 minutes, 60 minutes, send an email, or other. Most people voted for 30 minutes. Meeting lengths do vary based on the topic and goals; however, research has shown that participants’ attention drops beyond the 30-minute mark and continues to decline as the meeting continues.

Here is a rule of thumb to think about before sending that Outlook invitation:

  • Regular team meeting or touching base: 15 minutes
  • One-on-one meeting: 30 minutes
  • Brainstorming meeting: 40-60 minutes
  • Strategy meeting: 60-90 minutes
  • Retrospective/post-mortem meeting: 30 minutes for each week spent on the project

Meeting length is not an indicator of effectiveness. Keep this in mind as you start scheduling meetings.

Have everyone silently read the background info at the start of the meeting

This tip comes from Jeff Bezos. He apparently hated PowerPoints so much that he banned them in all meetings at Amazon. In his opinion, they were a waste of time. Instead, Bezos instructed that the information be compiled into a memo that everyone reads silently to themselves at the beginning of the meeting.

There are several reasons for this. First, most people can read to themselves much faster than a person can read the same material out loud. (Please be mindful of team members who may have dyslexia or other factors that could impact their participation—you still want to be inclusive.) Some people may attach material to the meeting invitation, but that usually doesn’t get read anyway.

Another reason is that bullet points—so common in PowerPoints—are not nearly as effective as people think. The sentence fragments don’t resonate with people nearly as effectively as a narrative or anecdote, and a descriptive visual will do a much better job than the same slide template over and over.

Establish a D.R.I.

As you’re wrapping up your meeting, you can use this strategy from Steve Jobs. At Apple, Jobs liked to make a list of D.R.I.s—or directly responsible individuals—at the end of each meeting. This meant listing out all tasks and deliverables, what their deadlines were, and who was directly responsible for accomplishing each one.

That way, there were clear takeaways from the meeting and the plans could be put into action right away. If you don’t assign someone to be directly responsible, chances are that nobody will do it, and the task will likely fall through the cracks.

Use proper meeting etiquette

When people hear the word “etiquette,” they usually think of being polite and using good manners. That’s true, but there’s a lot more to etiquette as well. Etiquette, especially for work meetings, also involves limiting distractions and maximizing connections.

  • Be on time. If you are hosting the meeting, you may want to be 5 minutes early. Be sure to end promptly too—or, better yet, 5 minutes early so everyone has a transition break before the next meeting.
  • If you don’t know many people in the meeting, introduce yourself and give a brief description of your role. That will help the meeting members understand how to best give feedback and assign appropriate tasks.
  • Mute unnecessary noises as much as possible.
  • Stay in one place. Movement, like picking up your laptop and walking around, can be very visually distracting.
  • Don’t eat or drink during the meeting. This is true for both virtual meetings and in-person meetings.
  • If you won’t be on camera during a virtual meeting, add a profile picture. This can help give some sense of connection to virtual meetings that can otherwise feel very empty.

Related: 5 Tips for Maintaining Healthy Relationships at Work

Whether your meetings have 100 people or it’s just you and your manager, these meeting best practices can help you have the most productive and effective meeting possible. Most of these tips are applicable for both in-person and virtual meetings, so the strategies are as flexible as your work location.

Related: 6 Simple Things to Try to Help You Stay Focused at Work

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