7 Ways To Avoid Pointless Meetings

Generally, meetings suck. We all accept that as truth but we have them anyway. Endless, endless meetings…

I think we’re addicted.

Given our love for meetings, we need to make them more effective. Having recently “enjoyed” several truly pointless meetings, I know there’s a better way.

The easiest answer is: “don’t have them at all.” That might work, but generally that’s impossible. So…

  1. Make sure the meeting has a clear purpose. If I could scream this, I would: “What is the purpose of this meeting?” If you can’t define the purpose clearly, or you’re obfuscating it in order to get me into the meeting then shame on you.
  2. Avoid suspense. There’s no place in meetings for suspense. Whether you’re delivering bad news or good news – just get to the point. You can explain all the circumstances of your news after the fact, but don’t keep people sitting around waiting.
  3. Document what’s going on. The best thing about a meeting is not remembering what was talked about 5 minutes after it was finished. I suppose to avoid pointless meetings I could say, “be remarkable and memorable” but barring that, pick one person as secretary and have them distribute their notes later on.
  4. Avoid distractions. Every meeting has at least one guy that’s distracted by something. He’s looking at his computer screen, staring out the window, signaling to people walking by the conference room, or picking his nose. Boot his butt out of there, he’s Mr. Pointless Meeting.
  5. Have an agenda. This won’t work for impromptu meetings, but an agenda is a very good way to keep people on track. Distribute it beforehand. Don’t ask for everyone’s approval. If you do, and don’t get it, you’ll have a harder time following the agenda. Agendas are an opt-out effort; if someone doesn’t put in suggestions or request changes (or respond in any way) they’ve – by default – accepted the agenda.
  6. Avoid regular meetings if there’s no agenda. Following point #4, if you’re having a regular, weekly meeting but there’s no agenda, why have the meeting? If you say “habit” then poke yourself in the eye. Meetings aren’t meant to satisfy your need for organization and habitual, mindless behaviors; they’re there to solve problems.
  7. Schedule something critical right after. If you have the sense that a meeting may be pointless schedule something important right after. Tell the attendees as soon as you get in there, so you’ve got an escape route setup. You could always fake it, or even have someone call you during the meeting to get out, but it’s much more effective if you legitimately have to move on. It’ll help you keep others focused, moving through the agenda and accomplishing something.

Meetings don’t have to suck.

Many of them do, and our corporate culture seems bent on enforcing as many hours of meetings as possible. But there are better ways.

What are your tips and tricks for having effective meetings and avoiding the bad ones?

February 20, 2007 Posted in Business by

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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