At many times throughout my career in marketing, I have looked at my daily calendar in the morning and been greeted by solid blocks of color from the start of the day through the end. Every single block of color is a meeting. And without any space in between meetings, how could I possiblly get any actual work done?
We all go a little meeting crazy sometimes. And I'll readily admit that meetings are occasionally necessary. But do we really need to schedule a meeting for every little thing in order to function? No, definitely not. So what's a marketer to do? Simple -- make the meetings shorter. Here are some tips to help you get your meetings over and done with in less time.
Invite fewer people
How many people were at your last meeting? Now try to remember how many of those people didn't contribute anything relevant or useful. Did they need to be there? Probably not. When you invite too many people, you do your coworkers a disservice. If they don't say anything, they might seem like they're not valuable. So they might contribute just for the sake of appearance. And this is obviously a waste of their time and yours.
Coming to a consensus on any decision becomes increasingly difficult with more people. Anybody who has ever tried to plan a company holiday party can share war stories about the egregious compromises that were made on everything from the date of the party to the type of food served. This isn't high school, so common adult courtesy dictates that we listen to everyone's opinion. Fill a room with different viewpoints, and you're going to be in there all afternoon. So invite the minimum number of decision makers, and then watch your meeting times shrink.
Pare down the scope of the meeting
You don't always need a two-month roadmap coming out of a meeting. Yes, fewer meetings are better, but the longer a meeting goes, the more likely action items will be lost anyway. It's OK for a client kickoff meeting to be a 15-minute phone conversation where everyone goes around the room, says their names, titles, key responsibilities, and favorite ice cream flavors -- and then hangs up. Your next call will be better informed, and real work can get done.
I personally love the 15-minute meeting. It's all the time you need to knock out one important topic, which is really all you should be tackling at once anyway. When attendees know that there are only 15 minutes to get the job done, things will start more efficiently with the knowledge that meeting time is precious. And it doesn't hurt to politely inform your meeting companions that you have a hard stop at the end of the 15 minutes. Speaking of politeness...
Stop being so polite
If you desperately need pats on the back, lie down in some butter. There's no need to be a big jerk, of course. But spending anything more than a moment at the beginning and ending of a meeting to make small talk is a waste of everyone's time. And wasting other people's time (and therefore money) is more rude than declining to chat at length about the weather.
Efficiency is the ultimate client compliment. Prepare a surgically precise agenda and wow your coworkers and clients with your ability to get the job done in no time flat. All worthwhile agencies calculate budgets hourly. Even if they say they don't, agencies simply cannot operate for long without knowing their hourly ROI per client. Therefore efficient employees are significantly more valuable to their clients and their own agencies when they are organized and expeditious.
Incentivize an early conclusion
The simplest promise of a reward will make your meeting go faster. "If we wrap up early, we'll all grab a coffee downstairs." "If we wrap up early, let's all head home." "If we wrap up early, I'll send you all a video of me doing the Truffle Shuffle."
Let the reward fit your management style and personality, but make sure that there's something in it for everybody. Food, candy, and coffee are all going to be popular. But reward or not, the promise of a shorter meeting is a generally popular idea, in my experience. So regardless of the incentive, simply having some kind of incentive to end a meeting early can be tremendously helpful.
Try a short meeting that ends with a group social (non-meeting) lunch break. If you state that wrapping up early will result in more mozzarella cheese logs being stuffed into mouths sooner, you had better believe there's going to be some hustle. Sweeten the deal with some loaded potato bombs and Southwestern pizza pockets, and your meeting will hum. (And now I'm hungry. Is it lunch time yet?)
Designate point people
Make sure that everybody at the meeting has one job. Your agenda should lay out these responsibilities clearly. And a quick recap at the end of the meeting should ensure that each individual job has been completed. For example, let's suppose your meeting is about deciding which Dwayne Johnson movie is best. If four people are present at your meeting, the individual jobs might be choosing (person 1) best action scene, (person 2) best heartfelt moment, (person 3) best one-liner, and (person 4) best wide and toothy smile.
It's always nice when people are prepared beforehand, but I live in the real world just like you. So let's assume that nobody will prepare, and you'll use your meeting time to brainstorm ideas -- or in this example, to suggest great Dwayne Johnson movies. By the end of the meeting, each point person should be prepared to suggest a movie title, and then the group can take a quick vote to decide on the all-time best. (Spoiler: It's "Southland Tales.") Applying this method can help ensure that each cog of the meeting machine is working on an individual task that contributed to the ultimate stated goal or desired outcome.
Don't schedule a meeting at all
Every time you go to schedule a meeting, stop for a moment and ask yourself, "Do I really need a meeting at all?" Maintaining points of contact can be important to a client relationship, but if exchanging pleasantries is the only reason you're scheduling the meeting, skip it. Send your client an email or even a gift basket. Both will save everyone money and time.
Meetings should have a single clear purpose with a stated desired outcome. If you find yourself struggling to identify the purpose of the meeting, then there's obviously no reason for it. As collaboration tools like Yammer, Basecamp, and Salesforce become more sophisticated, the need for in-person and phone meetings are further minimized.
"Close up of hand holding stopwatch" image via Shutterstock.