1. Don’t make people too comfortable
Unless you’re brainstorming or toadying up to a client, forget the cushy seating that encourages people to linger. Making people physically uncomfortable – and therefore, making meetings shorter – is an art form for some.
The Slightly Uncomfortable Chair Collection by Montreal-based advertising firm Sid Lee was designed to end time wasted in meetings. Unveiled in 2008, the odd but strangely beautiful chair collection features shortened legs, awkward angles or pointy seats. The concept was to make sitting mildly irritating so people won’t sit for long.
That same idea of mild torture is the key to Caterina Fake’s meeting strategy. According to Inc. magazine, the co-founder of Flickr and Hunch.com would make people stand and drink 16 ounces of water at the start. The meeting was over when the first one had to go to the bathroom.
2. Don’t feed people
Never serve food if you want a speedy meeting. Sure, people are more agreeable when you feed them, so if you’re pitching, it may be worthwhile to spring for some pastries. Otherwise, stick to coffee or plain water.
3. Don’t invite a crowd
“The effectiveness of a meeting is inversely proportionate to the number of people in attendance,” says Rico DiGiovanni, president and partner at Spider Marketing Solutions in Toronto. “The more people, the less that gets done.”
Jeremy Gayton, president of advertising network Taxi Canada, hates when meetings have an ‘audience,’ or when people leave the meeting early on and then come back at the end.
“Everyone in attendance should contribute to the discussion,” he says. “If not, why are you there?”
4. Don’t wait for latecomers
Start on time – no exceptions.
5. Forget the PowerPoint
As soon as the lights dim, everyone will be checking their e-mail anyway, so don’t bother with boring text or stats on a screen. Make it visually memorable or just talk to them.
6. Don’t allow cellphone use
When the electronic devices come out (how rude!), it may signal that a meeting is boring or too long. If necessary, schedule a break for e-mail or texting, and let people know in advance.
7. Don’t let one bully dominate....
“Meetings are not supposed to be stages for Alpha people to dance on,” says Mr. Gayton. “There always needs to be a chair to keep discussions on point and under control.”
8. ...or drone on
“Set a realistic time for the meeting,” says Jamie Danziger, a partner at Toronto HR firm IQ Partners. “Don’t default to one hour if you only need 30 minutes. Establish a desired outcome for the meeting up front and check in at the end to see if it was achieved.
“Agendas are ideal, but not always possible. The desired outcome question can help in lieu of an agenda. Have meetings to make decisions and question the efficacy and need for meetings. Don’t be afraid to shorten meetings or cancel them outright,” he recommends.
Inder Bedi, founder of Matt & Nat eco-friendly accessories, limits individuals to 10 minutes at the company’s weekly meetings.
“We actually use a timer,” says Mr. Bedi. “Minutes are taken so that we’re not discussing the same issues again. Everyone must come in with the minutes from last week and an agenda for each plan of action and the time frame for completion.”
9. Whatever you do, never assume...
After securing a contract with Coca-Cola, Mr. DiGiovanni invited the key client over for a kickoff meeting in their fanciest boardroom with refreshments provided. As he was writing some notes, he was startled by a loud sound coming from the serving table.
“I turned to find my new client violently throwing cans of pop into the garbage,” says Mr. DiGiovanni. “I was shocked by his behaviour, until I realized that we had served nothing but Pepsi product! When he was done, he turned to me and said, ‘Never let that happen again, or else!’ I can assure you, it never did happen again.”