The 7 Must-Know Rules of Productive Meetings

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In a meeting with a new business prospect not long ago, I surprised myself and everyone else in the room. Shortly after an executive from our advertising agency starting talking and clicking her way through a perfectly fine PowerPoint presentation  I stood up, walked over to where she was sitting, and closed the lid of her laptop.

Concerned that the energy was leaving the room, I explained that while we have 20 great client case studies we would be happy to discuss, we like to shake things up. What better way to demonstrate that than by changing our approach to this introductory meeting? With that, I literally tossed the agenda in the trash can. While I hadn’t planned to disrupt this gathering, I was pleased with what happened next: We had a great conversation about our prospective client’s objectives and challenges -- and, yes -- our expertise. What started as a lecture turned into an interactive, animated discussion. That prospect is now a major client at our agency.

Sure, my team was a little surprised by my interruption, and I apologized to them later. But when it comes to meetings, I like them to be short, interactive and productive.

Here are the seven rules to follow when it's time to huddle:

Related: For More Productive Meetings, Throw Out Your Conference Table

1. Start on time.

Five people gathered in a conference room at 10 am should not wait five minutes for a straggler. Close the door and start the meeting. Waiting for latecomers only reinforces their behavior. Those who arrive late and inconvenience others are unlikely to do it again.

2. State your goals.

Note what it is you hope to decide or accomplish at the beginning. If there is an agenda, keep it short so that the goal isn’t getting through a long, overly detailed agenda.

3. Keep gatherings small.  

Try to limit meetings to five to seven people if at all possible. When the group becomes larger, some attendees become spectators.

Related: 7 Tips for Making a Success of That Crucial First Meeting With a Prospect

4. Keep them short.

Often, the amount of time you schedule to accomplish a task is the amount of time it actually takes. One hour seems to be the default standard, probably based on our Outlook or Gmail calendars. Try scheduling meetings for 30 or 45 minutes. Or even 15 minutes.  Saving 15 to 30 minutes here and there adds up.

5. Expect everyone to contribute.

At our company, if you don’t speak up in meetings, you aren’t invited back. Interaction and sharing ideas are critical.

6. Create new rules for PowerPoint.

When a visual presentation is required, we have a few guidelines about those, too. We use more pictures than words. (I like to follow the rule of Twitter -- no more than 140 characters -- when it comes to words on a slide.) We ditch jargon. We end with a summary of decisions and next steps.

7. Take it outside.

When a small group is gathering, I like to take the meeting out of the conference room. Sometimes we will take a walk or find a place outside to sit. To me, a conference room -- even a cool-looking one -- puts people in “classroom” mode.

Adopting a keep-it-moving approach to meetings usually keeps ideas flowing. When we get stuck or dull, I’m all for changing course, ditching the agenda or, if necessary, ending the meeting altogether.

Related: This Business Thrives Working 4 Days a Week Without Bosses, Email or Meetings