Last year I made a sales call, it was a “warm lead”: I got introduced by a friend and managed to connect pretty easily with the person on the phone.
The discussion went smoothly but when I asked when we could meet face to face the person said: “Let me look at my schedule”.
Pretty normal, I thought.
The seconds went by. I was silent on the other end of the call. One of these awkward silences that as an Italian I will never get used to.
After about a minute he said: “It seem I am pretty booked this month… we could meet for instance by the end of August. Does that work for you?” I had to double check: “Are you sure you mean August? The month that comes after July?” “Yes August.” – he replied – “It seems my schedule will be less busy then.” “Ok… let’s mark that down” – I replied.
My calendar looked completely empty in August. That’s because I was making the call on the 10th of February.
Everyone seems to be busy in meetings these days
It seems everyone in big or small companies is always busy in meetings. I looked up at some statistics and the situation seems to be quite bad: on average employees all over the world attend 62 meetings per month. That’s 3 meetings a day.
on average employees all over the world attend 62 meetings per month.
Because a meeting is usually at least one hour long it means almost half of everyone’s day is busy in meetings. “There’s nothing wrong in spending time in meetings” you might think.
If it wasn’t that according to the same survey almost half of those are considered by the same people who go there to be “time wasted” or “unnecessary”.
I believe there is an epidemic of meetings around the world and I think the reason is that nobody ever taught us how to run meetings. It’s not just a waste of time but an enormous waste of money. According to a study the salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses only is $37 Billion per year.
the salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses only is $37 Billion per year.
I stole a few tricks from Bezos and Weiner to help
This is an issue that has been bugging me forever and I developed my recipe (admittedly cherrypicking other’s ingredients) to help running meetings effectively and waste less time.
I strived to squeeze the recipe in 3 simple and memorable steps. You will find around 10-steps or 7-steps guide to run effective meetings, but I believe that if you have 10 or 7 things to remember you won’t remember them. 3 is the magic number to me.
All of these might seem obvious in hindsight and easy to do one by one but are incredibly complicated to nail down all at the same time. But I guarantee that if you follow these 3 steps you will be 100% more effective.
1. Send material 2 days ahead
You’ve certainly been in that situation where you were invited to a meeting but you didn’t know why you were needed, what will be discussed and what is the point of the meeting. The first trick is to send material 2 days ahead. The material is not some random email but consists of 3 things:
You need to tell the meeting participants what topics you are going to discuss. Preferably with timing and responsible for the discussion (below you will find a template to download).
This will also allow people to propose changes to the agenda if needed and you will engage them even before the meeting starts. Or find out that you already solved the problem before the meeting itself.
You need to give the possibility to the participants to come to the meeting knowing already what is the background of the discussion, why you convened the meeting and eventually what solution you are going to propose.
Everyone will be able to form an idea and you will skip the BS and go straight to the point. Memo should not be more than 1 page, you don’t want to write “War and Peace” again.
You need to tell people what you want to achieve in the meeting. What will be the world if the meeting is successful. What will need to be discussed and closed before everyone leaves the door.
As Jeff Weiner says: “Every meeting should have a purpose” (no-nonsense uh?). Since 80% will not read the material beforehand (and this is the trick I stole from Bezos) start the meeting by giving 5′ to everyone to read the material.
Then start immediately discussing. Again, no BS, straight to the point saves everyone time and hassle.
2. Max 5 x 45′
You have been in those never-ending meetings with other 25 people where only 3 are discussing, haven’t you?
Another page from Bezos‘ book is the so called “Two pizza rule“: don’t have meetings with more people than a pizza could feed. To me that number is maximum 5 people.
There is extensive research that points to the fact that the more people you have in the meetings the less people participate actively (intuitive isn’t it?): while the same 2 or 3 are debating the remaining 20 are daydreaming (91%), sleeping (39%) or doing other work (73%). Limit the number of participants to 5 people max and you will win. Also meetings don’t have to be necessarily exactly 60 minutes long (the default in Outlook). Try to change the default meeting length to 45 minutes and you will achieve 2 things:
- You won’t have anymore that phenomenon by which everyone is always late to the next meeting
- You will force yourself and all the other participants to come to a conclusion within an hour (because anyway meetings always protract for 10′ after the supposed end)
3. Have a scribe for the minutes
When was last time that you went to a meeting, you were sure you agreed on something but nobody could remember what and who had to do it? This is the one that infuriates me the most usually. We spend an hour together, debating heavily on whether to paint the walls blue or red, we decide for one colour (I hope blue), we agree that John will call the painter and then… the day after nothing happens because nobody wrote it down. And the next meeting it’s the same.
Have a friggin’ scribe to take notes, write the meeting minutes, the agreed actions, send it around and save it in a safe place. There is nothing more precious than a trail of decisions to understand why the heck you ended up painting the walls red with pink dots.
I have been trying to run all my meetings using these three tricks, it’s not always possible and it’s never easy but I feel that I am having way less meetings (because to have a meeting I have to do a lot of work) and with higher quality (because I do a lot of work to run a meeting) than before. As a consequence I also have way more time to focus, think and do a lot of good work than I didn’t have before.