You might think it impossible for people to hate meetings any more than they already do.
But you’d be wrong.
To be fair, people don’t hate all meetings — they hate bad meetings. We’ve all experienced that unavoidable feeling of frustration when an ineffective meeting takes us away from accomplishing something else or disrupts our flow of work, making our entire day feel less productive than it could have been. It’s even worse when it happens across multiple meetings throughout the day.
Of course, ask any employee and they will tell you that they do, in fact, see enormous value in meeting to collaborate, create, and communicate detailed information more efficiently than they could through email or messaging apps. If they didn’t, we’d naturally have fewer meetings on our calendars.
Still, meetings have earned a reputation as, at best, a necessary evil. So why is that?
If you start to dig into the problem, a trend begins to emerge. More often than not, the problem is in the way meetings are run — unclear goals, meandering presentations, off-topic discussions, distracted participants, and the fact we all have other work competing for our time collectively conspire to frustrate all of us at one point or another.
Does it have to be that way? In a word, no.
But does most of the advice out there about running a better meeting actually make meetings better? Also no.
Rather than let bad meeting behaviors continue to wreak havoc on people’s schedules, job satisfaction, and the company’s bottom line, leaders at organizations everywhere are enacting new — and often dubious — rules for running more effective meetings.
From arbitrary caps on the length of meetings or the number of attendees to making everyone stand for the duration of the meeting or even designating one person to attend the meeting just to take notes — these widely-cited “best practices” do little to curb bad meeting behaviors.
What’s more, all of this questionable advice does little to actually improve meetings, while giving your employees new reasons to hate them.
10 Meeting Productivity Tips You Should Probably Avoid
Before we dive into the worst advice, we’d be remiss not to point out there are some honestly helpful tips out there for more productive meetings. Setting a clear agenda, starting and ending meetings on time, sending materials in advance, and assigning action items at the end can all help make meetings more useful and less frustrating.
Beyond those, however, there are any number of more questionable — even downright narcissistic — “effective meeting” strategies that companies regularly attempt to adopt in hopes of making meetings better.
Here is a list of the 10 worst ideas that are commonly touted as good solutions for more productive meetings that you should probably avoid:
1. Schedule meetings that start at odd times
(A bad idea recommended by CBS News)
Team members less-than-enthused to join your meetings? Maybe they’ll like them more at odd hours! There are many variations on this recommendation, from scheduling meetings really early or really late in the day, or even starting meetings at an unexpected time, say 7 minutes past the hour.
Of course, the idea that irregular scheduling somehow increases the worth of a meeting in the eyes of employees defies logic. Attendees may be more likely to notice the oddity of this strategy, but mostly they’ll be irritated by the added disruption it causes in their workdays. No one wants to arrive early or stay late at the office to attend your meeting, and the sheer lack of consistency forces people to work even harder to manage their already busy schedules.
2. Only schedule meetings on Wednesday
(A bad idea recommended by Forbes)
Imagine if you could only run all your errands one day each week. Bank, groceries, cleaners, healthcare checkups, and everything else — all of it can only be done that one day, or else it has to wait until next week. To be fair, as a strategy for managing meetings, it sounds great at first — you’ve got the whole rest of the week open for your own personal productivity!
Within a few weeks, however, you’ll realize that limiting your team to meeting once a week only increases inefficiency. In fact, it does so twice. First, you’re creating an environment where formal discussions and decisions will be put off until your designated day, potentially leaving work to idle for up to a week at a time. And second, since every meeting will be expected to take place in the same 8 hour period, you’re creating a nightmare of a day each week where everyone’s schedules quickly end up booked solid, thus forcing impromptu meetings to be scheduled weeks or months into the future to work around scheduling conflicts. While avoiding meetings in the name of productivity may be a convincing argument if you’re the CEO, if all your employees follow suit you run the risk of stifling innovation and delaying the progress of important initiatives.
3. Don’t invite more than 7 people
(A bad idea recommended by the Wall Street Journal)
Of course, no one wants to attend a meeting that isn’t relevant to them. And objectively, smaller groups do often have an easier time getting to a consensus. But limiting meeting attendance based on an arbitrary number of people means you run the risk of losing valuable insights and ideas from those who didn’t make the cut — or worse, you end up having to schedule more meetings with those who weren’t invited later. People should carefully consider who needs to attend their meetings, and invite the right people without attempting to work within the confines of a meaningless and often counterproductive seat rule.
4. Make everyone stand up
(A bad idea recommended by Lifehack.com)
For those not familiar with the quite-literal “standing meeting” concept, the idea is that people are uncomfortable when standing so meetings will move more quickly and thus end more quickly. And while there is indeed a time and a place for rapid-fire collaboration sessions (especially in “agile” development environments specifically designed to collaborate in this way), making employees uncomfortable as a strategy for saving time is at best short-sighted. If standing meetings do run faster, which is still up for debate, it’s likely only because you’ve incentivized employees to share less detail and ask fewer questions.
What’s more, standing meetings can be ableist, ageist, and sexist when you get down to physical meeting dynamics between different types of people, causing some people to feel anxious and disengage from the meeting entirely. Harvard Business Review explains why stand-up meetings aren’t the right solution for every meeting here.
5. Only schedule 15-minute meetings
(A bad idea recommended by Fast Company)
We’ve all heard Parkinson’s Law, which posits that “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Therefore, this recommendation contends, you should have no problem squeezing any meeting into 15 minutes or less — after all, you’re only using more time in your meetings now because you’ve scheduled yourself more time to use, right? Fast Company’s recommendation cites TED talks to explain the “science” behind this rule. According to the TED universe, you should be able to present any idea, no matter how complex, in under 18 minutes. If you can’t, they’ll tell you that you just don’t know your subject well enough to present it simply.
But meetings aren’t presentations, nor should they be — they are opportunities for team members to collaborate and solve tough problems. It’s absolutely fair to expect meeting organizers schedule the minimum amount of time needed to match the agenda for a meeting. But sticking to an arbitrary (and objectively short) time limit is more likely to cause you to end up with more and more meetings, all needed to accomplish the bigger task you could have just covered one longer meeting. And just as importantly, all those shorter meetings mean that employees are constantly starting and stopping work throughout the workday, and those interruptions are often far more disastrous for productivity.
Slack put together this chart that serves as a much more reasonable guide for meeting length:
6. Hold a pre-meeting meeting
(A bad idea recommended by Trumpet, Inc.)
When is it worth having a meeting about an upcoming meeting? Almost never. There are very few circumstances where a “planning” meeting or even multiple “pre-meetings” may be beneficial beforehand, and these almost uniformly involve preparation for some type of major organizational meeting in which major company news is delivered. And note here, we’re not dismissing the value of collaborating to prepare for a future activity, such as planning the kick-off for a major change initiative, prepping for a highly visible software demo, or holding a walk-through before an upcoming meeting with external business partners. All of these require leaders and participants to gather information, stress test and refine arguments, and to collectively prepare goals and action items for an upcoming meeting or event.
But for most meetings, and indeed, even for a few of the example exceptions listed above, if your team already works together effectively, there’s just no reason to hold a pre-meeting. Just hold the regular meeting and set the expectation that everyone will readily contribute as professionals, then get back to work.
7. Use a designated speaking token
(A bad idea recommended by Boston.com)
A tennis ball, a pen, a notepad, a conch shell — plenty of organizations have tried to limit interruptions in meetings by designating an object as the “speaking token” and forbidding anyone not currently holding that object to speak.
If the conference room were instead a kindergarten, this might be a sensible way to teach respectful listening and taking turns. But let’s face it, if you need a speaking pen to get your employees or teammates to respect each other’s ideas and opinions in a meeting room, then you’ve probably got bigger cultural problems within your organization. What’s more, this ritual can really slow meetings down and make them longer. No one wants that.
8. Avoid PowerPoint
(Another bad idea recommended by Forbes)
“Amazon banned PowerPoint outright, so you should too,” goes the conventional wisdom these days. And there’s a kernel of wisdom in there — after all, no one needs to spend time in a conference room listening to someone read an entire slide deck verbatim. But banning slides and other supporting visuals is going a step too far. Used well, these elements can help keep a meeting on track, provide context for conversations, and offer all the details needed for a decision to be made.
Want to really make your meetings more efficient? You should ban the actual act of presenting during meetings, not slides themselves. All of us have suffered through hour-long meetings where the organizer ate up the first 45 minutes presenting information that could have been sent via email ahead of time. That’s not PowerPoint’s fault, it’s the organizer’s. So here’s a useful tip: if there’s information or a presentation that will help attendees prepare for an upcoming meeting, send that information (whether by email, memo, video presentation) the day before! That way everyone can get themselves up to speed whenever they have a free moment, and your meetings can finish faster because they can focus only on the discussion and decisions that need to be made.
9. Offer incentives for attending
(A bad idea recommended by CIO Magazine)
Food, prepaid debit cards, gift cards. Yes, many of your employees don’t mind this particular strategy. But if you have to bribe people to attend a meeting, should you even be having that meeting?
Even when incentives are provided, most people still won’t attend a meeting they think is a waste of time — and if they do show up don’t expect them to be engaged. Most of the time, the financial cost isn’t worth the attendance of the handful of employees whose only motivation for being there is food or money. Ultimately, setting an agenda and giving people a compelling reason to be there is the best strategy for getting people to show up to meetings with something to contribute.
10. Assign a dedicated note taker
(A bad idea recommended by Asana)
Assigning someone to take notes or minutes for the meeting means you get a written record of discussions, decisions, and next steps that people can reference after the meeting. Now that is a great idea.
But why would you have one of your actual, human employees — a person you’re paying real money to employ, and who no doubt has better things to work on than their shorthand — attend a meeting just to take notes when you could instead simply record all of it with the click of a button? No one ever wants to be the meeting note taker, and worse, being assigned that responsibility almost always means that they are too busy to also actively participate in the discussion.
Do This One Thing To Actually Make Your Meetings More Effective
In the last year or two, a new idea has quickly begun to gain popularity among innovative business leaders, largely because it’s both simple to do in every meeting, and surprisingly effective at encouraging better, more productive meeting behaviors.
What’s the secret? Record every single meeting.
By recording meetings and archiving them in a central, searchable video library, you create a perfect record of the exact conversations that took place — which can be referenced later by those were there, those who couldn’t attend, as well as by others in your organization who may be searching for information that was discussed in meetings they weren’t a part of.
Recording every meeting by default means you can give your people more flexibility and control over their daily schedules, ensuring that all the right people can contribute to a meeting even if they can’t be there in person. You also free up all attendees to actively participate in the discussion since the video recording eliminates the need for detailed note-taking. Panopto’s video platform, in particular, automatically transcribes every video for you, so no one has to do it by hand and all of the conversations in your meeting recordings can be easily searched.
Recommended Reading: A Better Meeting Culture Starts With Recording Meetings
Recording meetings gives your people a valuable resource filled with detailed information they can reference on-demand — and does so without any extra effort on your part. You just click “record” and hold the meeting just as you always would, now with no more need to type up long summary emails or “next steps” memos.
It’s both the easiest and smartest way to engage employees, keep them focused, and ultimately improve collaboration, both during the meeting and after the meeting ends.
Start Capturing All Your Company Meetings With Panopto
Panopto is an all-in-one video platform that enables organizations to automatically capture, transcribe, and archive all of their company meetings in a secure, searchable internal video library. It even integrates with today’s leading video conferencing systems, making it easy to start recording your meetings — without having to change the way you meet.
Recognized by Forester for having the “Best Support for video Search,” Panopto enables you to search the words spoken and shown within every video in your library and then jump to the exact moment a topic is discussed. That means not only will your videos be a useful record, but they can even become a valuable, referenceable part of your company’s knowledge base.
To see how Panopto can help revamp your corporate meeting culture to make your teams more productive, contact our team today for a free trial.