A lot of people think meetings are a complete waste of time.
Meeting with people in and of itself isn’t a waste of time, it’s just that most meetings are poorly run. For entrepreneurs this is a killer – your time is insanely precious, but you also want to be talking to as many people as possible and “getting out of the building.”
Meetings can easily get out of hand. I experienced this recently in a group mentorship session. There were a few mentors and two entrepreneurs. I applaud the entrepreneurs for getting all the mentors in a room together, the opportunities for brainstorming and collective participation are great in those settings. But the meeting fell apart very quickly. One participant (who shall remain nameless!) took over the meeting and in the blink of an eye, our hour was up. I know the entrepreneurs still got some value out of the meeting, as did the mentors, but it could have been much more productive.
You could lay blame at the feet of the mentor in question, who is definitely a talkative and excitable guy, but really the blame lies with the entrepreneurs. To their credit, I think they get it now, and I’m certain future group sessions will be incredibly productive. (Side note: I just got an agenda from them for another meeting that’s very precise and follows some of my suggestions below, which I hadn’t even suggested yet. Nice!)
In any meeting that you organize, particularly as an entrepreneur speaking with mentors or board members, you need to stay in control. That doesn’t mean you stop others from talking – quite the contrary – but you need to keep tight reins on what’s going on. This is also true when doing customer development interviews; there’s room for customers to talk freely of course, but if you don’t have a script and solid agenda, you’ll find that you spend the time chatting casually with customers and not really learning anything. You might feel great after, because the meeting was friendly and positive, only to realize it was largely a waste of time.
Here are 5 quick tips for staying in control of meetings:
- Prepare people in advance. Send a meeting agenda in advance. Don’t assume everyone knows what you want to talk about, or that everyone has the same priorities. Spell it out for them.
- Have very specific goals. The more specific your goals, the better. Remind people at the beginning of the meeting about what you’re trying to accomplish and how they can best help. Ask specific questions. “We’re thinking about such and such…” might be a good conversation starter, but more often than not it’ll lead into a rathole.
- Timebox everything. Allot specific amounts of time to specific parts of the agenda. Keep tabs on the time and pace of the meeting.
- Cut people off. Don’t be afraid to cut people off and bring them back on track. Even if everyone has the best intentions, you need to be prepared and capable of telling them to stop and be quiet (in a nice way!)
- Mutual goals and value. Harley Finklestein from Shopify has a very interesting Mixergy interview about Agile Business Development with some related points. One of the concepts he describes is “Candid Objectives” (which is similar to #2 above). But he also talks about explicitly describing the mutual goals and value you’re trying to create in a meeting. For business development that makes a lot of sense, but it also rings true for meetings with mentors, and particularly for board meetings (where everyone needs to get value out of the process.) “What’s in it for me?” (for other meeting participants) is something you should think about in any meeting.
Meetings somehow auto-magically fill up the time that you’ve allotted for them. If you say it’s a 1 hour meeting it’ll take 1 hour. If you plan for 2 hours, somehow it takes 2 hours. I’ve been in meetings that took less time than planned, and people actually felt awkward about it – “Um, so is that it? There’s nothing else? We’re probably missing something, so we should schedule another meeting…” Ugh.
Try shorter meetings with more precise agendas and goals, and see if you get things equally accomplished. You’ll probably get more done in less time. It’s all about focus. And control.