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Leadership / Meetings

Make Sure Your Meetings Don't Waste Everyone's Time by Doing These 10 Things

Participants will get more out of meetings if you follow these techniques.
Make Sure Your Meetings Don't Waste Everyone's Time by Doing These 10 Things
Image credit: Tom Werner | Getty Images
- Guest Writer
CEO of Stacey Hanke Inc.
5 min read

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Meetings are a necessary part of professional life -- sales meetings, board meetings, team meetings, project meetings. The list is never ending. According to The Time Trap, by Alec Mackenzie and Pat Nickerson, managers typically spend between one-fourth and three-fourths of their workday in meetings.

Related: What Happened When I Made My Team Do This 19-Minute Meeting Every Morning

With professionals attending so many meetings every day, it becomes tempting for listeners to tune out speakers, decrease participation and retain smaller portions of the information shared. When meeting fatigue is coupled with digital distractions such as text messages, email alerts and social media, meeting speakers are challenged to bring a distinct experience to each meeting to be heard above the noise.

Question: How can speakers compete with ongoing distractions and meeting fatigue faced in offices every day?

Answer: They can increase their influence through consistent, clear and poignant communication skills.

If you want listeners who are more willing to participate and thus obtain a better understanding of the purpose and tasks discussed, follow these 10 steps to increase your influence in meetings:

1. Invite the right participants.

Meetings are often cited to be top time-wasters in companies. This is especially true when workers attend meetings that are irrelevant to them or their job. A study published in Harvard Business Review examined the Outlook calendars of multiple workers and found that one weekly executive meeting consumed 300,000 hours each year. In light of such a high statistic, be certain you have the right participants in your meeting. This demonstrates that you respect their time.

Related: Science Has Some Suggestions for Making Meetings Productive

2. Understand participant needs.

Before your meeting, understand your attendees and what they wish to gain. Identify their "why" and then craft your agenda to meet this need. Know why your topic is important to your listeners and what benefit they would get from hearing your message. Convey the importance of the meeting's timing and the purpose it serves to meet the listeners' needs. Making the extra effort to answer their "why" ensures they will be more apt to pay attention and participate.

3. Hide digital distractions.

According to a survey conducted by IMEX America in conjunction with Meeting Professionals International, 40 percent of those surveyed believe that to maximize attention, personal devices should be banned during conference sessions and meetings. Begin your meeting by leading by example. Remove your digital devices from the table, silence them or choose to leave them behind entirely. Acknowledge your desire to value time and ask participants to silence devices and remove them from sight.

Related: How to Master Meetings (Infographic)

4. Allow listeners time to speak.

Listeners don't want to be lectured. Demonstrate respect for attendees by giving them each an opportunity to speak. Ask questions and request that they paraphrase the topics being covered to ensure understanding. Use their paraphrasing as an opportunity to clarify confusion and ensure all listeners mutually understand the discussion and takeaway.

5. Listen with your body.

As listeners speak, listen with intent. Go beyond eye contact and make an eye connection. Silence your inner dialogue so that you can hear what is being said. This will prevent formulating thoughts and responses that distract from true comprehension. Engage your body in listening by leaning forward and keeping your body in a neutral stance. Refrain from fidgeting or excessive movement.

6. Start and end on time.

Few things show as much disrespect as when meetings start late or go over time. Attendees lose focus and become agitated. Their ability to retain information discussed diminishes and respect for the speaker wanes. Starting and ending on time communicates you're organized and respect others' time.

Related: You've Probably Been Taking Notes Wrong -- Here Are 5 Ways to Fix It

7. Reduce wasted time.

Once beginning a meeting, get straight to the point. Stop participants who derail the topic by reminding everyone of the limited time and specific purpose of the ongoing meeting. As the meeting host, respect everyone's time by keeping all attendees on track and the conversation moving forward.

8. Be clear and concise.

To manage time and stay on track, get straight to the point. Be clear and concise in your thoughts. Refrain from using non-words like "uh," "um," "like" and "you know." Be purposeful in your word choice by refraining from using 10 words when five will do. Brevity and clarity will prevent listener confusion and ensure time is respected. If other participants engage in conversation that competes for time or agenda, respectfully acknowledge their thoughts and pull the topic back on track.

9. Summarize quickly.

In a meeting study conducted by MIT engineers, PhD student Been Kim and associate professor Cynthia Rudin found that productive meetings that concluded in decisions made within 14 minutes were equally efficient at wrapping up. By remaining clear and concise, speakers can ensure participants understand the meeting's purpose and solve the issue in a more timely and efficient manner. As participants begin to realize that your meeting host style is one of timeliness and efficiency, they'll be more apt to listen with intent, and will participate and engage.

Related: Why It's on You to Stop People From Interrupting You

10. Audio- and video-record yourself. 

If you want to know what others see and hear when you're speaking, record or video yourself and immediately review the playback. Take note of your tonality, word choice, body movement and nonverbal communication. Request feedback from a meeting participant you trust to better understand how you are perceived, then practice corrections throughout daily conversations and interactions.

Implementing these 10 tactics will ensure you make the most of your and your participants' time. By taking these steps, you can increase your influence and encourage attendees to act upon what you have to say. Your consistency in these strategies will also ensure participants are more willing and eager to attend your future meetings.

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