How to Make Your Meetings Suck Less


Doing nothing is very hard to do … you never know when you’re finished.” — Leslie Nielson

Here’s a game you can play during your next meeting.

Estimate the average hourly salary of everybody in the room. Take your own as a baseline if need be, and multiply that by the number of people in the room.

Now calculate how much the meeting is costing the company in combined salaries and wages per minute. That is, multiply the average salary by the number of people and divide by 60.

That’s how much it’s costing you to run the meeting. Which is fine, if the meeting is being productive. But if it’s not, then why are you having it? Why are all those high-priced people locked in a room with you when they could be doing other, more valuable work?

Some signs of a time-wasting meeting:

  • No agenda, no purpose, or you don’t know why you in particular are there
  • It starts late
  • One or two people dominate all discussion, or nobody talks, or everybody is talking over top of each other. The person running the meeting has lost control
  • It gets side-tracked on trivialities, drama, and details instead of being focused on problems, solutions, and strategy
  • Decisions from previous meetings are revisited, sometimes over and over again
  • You leave the meeting not knowing what was decided
  • You leave the meeting not knowing who is supposed to do what by when
  • You go to all the meetings because you’re afraid you’re going to miss something
  • The meeting takes longer than scheduled
  • The meeting continues after the meeting, with attendees politicking in the hallways, because they didn’t say what they should have said in the meeting

If you’re in charge of running a meeting, how do you run a meeting that doesn’t suck? Read the list above, and do the opposite. If it’s your meeting, you have the power as to set the when, the how, and the who. Including when to start and stop.

If it’s not your meeting, you have the power to go or not go. To value your own and the company’s time, and not waste it.

If it’s your bosses meeting, well then you may a problem. Take notes, and start your own “don’t do this” file of all the things that don’t work. One day, when you’re the boss, you might need a reminder of what does and doesn’t work.

Stay Calm and Carry On

Photo by Shayne Kaye. Used under the Creative Common Attribution license.

Sometimes things happen you can’t plan for. Like riding your bike up the back of a bear. My trainer says she didn’t see the bear until she was on top of it. Literally, with her mountain bike.

She came around the corner, peddling furiously, looking over her shoulder and trying to stay ahead of the Scout troop following her. Scouting in Calgary has many advantages. Access to the mountains and wildlife are some of them.

The bear was sitting in the middle of the single track, facing uphill. The way she told us the story at the training workshop, she didn’t understand what had happened until the bear turned to look over its shoulder at her. It’s one of those “no sh*t, there I was” stories that’s funny only later when you’re telling it around the campfire.

She backed down slowly, keeping herself between the mother bear and cubs and the Scouts. By hand signals and whispering they got back to the last branch in the trail and took a different route.

That’s the kind of leadership I prefer. Calm, competent, cool. There are many things that could have gone wrong with this scenario, and any drama on the leader’s part wouldn’t have helped.

What do I mean by drama? In an already emotionally laden and potentially dangerous scenario adding more emotion is drama. If she’d screamed, or panicked, or froze, or attacked, things could have gone very horribly wrong.

Worst places to work? One sign is when your day depends on the boss’s mood. “Better keep your head down. Ian is in a foul mood because the budget is due.” Managers and executives need to control and manage their emotions instead of letting their emotions manage them.

Be enthusiastic, be positive, have fun. All good. But if you’re angry, or yelling, or throwing things, or even quietly calling people names now you’re either out of control or you’re a bully. Now you’re a “boss-hole”. Not inspirational nor effective in the long run.

It’s a simple thing outstanding managers do well – keep calm, be consistent.