How to get more from business meetings

Meetings could be costing your law firm more than you think. The annual cost of meetings, including travel time and cost, is estimated at £16,000 per employee and £637,000 for the average SME. The latest research reveals that an employee attends 207 meetings every year and 139 (67%) of those are a waste of time.

Of course, not all meetings are a waste of time. 95% of us still think that that face to face meetings are essential to building long-term business relationships. As Warren Buffett said, “You will never see eye-to-eye if you never meet face-to-face.” So if we can’t do without them, what can you do to make sure you get the most out of meetings? Here are our top 10 tips to maximise the efficiency and value of meetings:

1. Set an agenda

Or at the very least, an objective that outlines out what you want to achieve in the meeting. Keep it simple and focused.

2. Invite only essential people

Only invite attendees who really need to be there. Make sure they know why they have been invited and what they are expected to contribute.

3. Appoint a meeting leader

Have one person responsible for keeping discussions on track, making sure everyone gets the opportunity to speak and acting as a timekeeper.

4. Start with introductions

If everyone knows who’s who around the table you’ll avoid confusion and misunderstandings. It’s hard to understand different points of view if you have no idea of their context or background.

5. Consider a change of scene

Sometimes the boardroom is the right place to have a meeting but if you’ve already spent three hours in there, it’s unlikely to inspire creative thinking. Think about how other locations can help you achieve your meeting goal.

6. Circulate information in advance

Mark Zuckerburg made two significant changes to how meetings are run at Facebook and one was to send out data before the meeting. This reduces the time spent reading and catching up in the meeting.

7. Use the right technology

Rethink using PowerPoint. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos banned it outright, and Steve Jobs said, “I hate the way people use slideshows instead of thinking.” Instead, think about how technology can enhance your meeting, such as sharing a screen so everyone can see the decisions and actions you’ve noted.

8. Cut down meeting time

We make assumptions that a meeting will take an hour so we fill that time. Try shortening an hour meeting to half an hour and focus on getting everything done in that time.

9. Avoid travelling

Sometimes it is appropriate to meet face to face but today businesses conduct more meetings by conference call or video conference as it cuts out unnecessary travel time and cost. The technology has progressed so much – you can now video call in HD – and it’s accessible and affordable to businesses of all sizes.

10. End by agreeing and assigning actions

Summarise what you have agreed at the end of the meeting, including all the decisions and resulting actions. Also confirm who is doing what and by when so everyone is clear on their responsibilities. It will also give you a timescale to chase for updates.

While technology is helping us to travel less and hold remote business meetings, it does have its limitations. So much of our communication is non-verbal, and reading body language and facial expressions is vital when we’re holding complex conversations or negotiating. It can be difficult to pick up the nuances of what is being said over a conference call. That’s why many of us still prefer to meet face to face but we have to achieve the balance between cost and benefit. If you’ve ever wondered how much your meetings cost, use this meeting cost calculator developed by Harvard Business Review to work it out.

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