Many of us know what it’s like to be stuck in a long meeting.
But have you ever been running a meeting, and worried about attendees feeling that it’s dragging on?
Why do meetings drag?
How many of these ring true for you?
- Not having a clear plan for the meeting can make discussions meander.
- A long talk from one person can make people tune out.
- Too much time for a meeting can result in people “filling the time”.
- People don’t see the point of the meeting, or know why they’re there.
- Everyone just wants to get back to work.
Chances are, you’ve come across some of these. What’s the answer?
Having an agenda isn’t the only solution
The typical advice here is to “set an agenda”.
That’s good advice for a recurring 1 hour meeting that always has the same topics.
However, different types of meeting need a different approach.
In “Take control of your calendar”, I talked about how not all meetings are equal.
Having a plan with timings is vital for longer sessions, such as workshops.
Respect people’s time
Time is precious. If people are giving you their time, be sure to respect their time. Tell them what to expect from your meeting.
Listing out the stages of a lengthy meeting with timings and breaks will show where a session is headed, and get people thinking about it in advance.
And yes – have scheduled breaks. Even for virtual meetings.
Be strict with timekeeping
Rehearse any planned sections such as presentations. Or if you don’t do that, at least tell speakers how long they have, and keep an eye on the time.
For more open-ended sections such as group discussions or activities, set a clear start and end time. Maybe have a short break before it starts. Give everyone a warning as they approach the halfway mark, and 10 minutes before the end.
Don’t allow people to overrun or they will “fill the time”.
Capture actions as you go
If an action item comes up during the course of the meeting, make sure it gets captured somewhere.
One way to do this is to put the agenda in a document or on something like a Notion page, and share it with the group at the start of the meeting. As actions come up, add them to the document.
Continuity shows where the meeting fits into the wider goals of the team.
When meetings stand alone and don’t have any follow-up, they can feel pointless. Keep doing this, and you can start to see a culture of people not putting value into meetings.
Make sure that people are clear on how the meeting came about – and what the next steps are.
Follow up on those next steps – actions, decisions, or further discussions – asynchronously if possible (such as via Slack). A follow-up to a meeting doesn’t have to be another meeting.
Tightly packed meetings with no opportunities for questions or discussions can be hard to follow – and people may stop listening.
For discussions, give people the opportunity to have their say. For more controlled agendas such as speakers delivering talks one by one, have breaks.
If you’re running ahead of time on your agenda, start the next part of the agenda early.
And if it’s the last session of the day, finish early.
Nobody likes it when a meeting overruns. Everyone likes to finish early!
Give people some time back – they’ll appreciate it.