Famed management theorist Peter Drucker is said to have once quipped: "Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better."
Jon Petz wouldn't go that far. In fact, the author of "Boring Meetings Suck" (Wiley, 2011) is a fan. "Meetings are the cornerstone of collaboration," says the Columbus, Ohio, speaker and entertainer. "There are awesome opportunities with meetings. Yet we're using them ineffectively, and abusing them."
One problem, Petz says, is the nearly universal requirement that meeting attendees turn off phones and other mobile devices. Instead, he suggests letting attendees use their gadgets to take notes, instantly disseminate time-critical information to people affected by decisions and even employ on-the-fly crowdsourcing to help reach decisions. Petz qualifies his recommendation by saying attendees should turn ringers off and step out to answer calls during the meeting. Other than that, he identifies these five habits as standing in the way of more effective meetings:
1) You think meetings should be 30 minutes or 60 minutes long. "I recommend single-issue meetings, which can be done in 10 minutes," Petz says. "If you have a small group for a project or status meeting, I want to know: 1) Is the milestone on track? 2) If not, who or what is affected and what could be the results of that and, 3) What do you propose we do about it? Three sentences. Three breaths of air. I don't want 20 minutes. I want those three. Save the water cooler conversations for the water cooler. Leave a quick meeting with a sense of accomplishment and energy."
2) You always accept a meeting invitation. "My rule used to be, if you don't have an agenda, I'm not coming," Petz says, adding that he's mellowed, sort of. "My new rule is, if you can't clearly tell me what the mission and desired outcome of this meeting is, I'm definitely not coming. Time is money. Protect your investment. If you're not purposeful in a meeting, then send me the notes when you're done."
3) You think don't need a microphone, you'll just talk loudly. "There's a distinct difference between someone hearing you and you as a presenter commanding someone's attention," Petz says. A mic makes you a commander, as opposed to a mere talker. 'I require my PA system," he says. "They say, 'It's only 100 people, we don't need that.' But you absolutely need a microphone for groups of over 50. Learn it, use it, love it."
4) You can't control tangents. "Wrong. Stop suffering in silence as the moderator loses control," Petz commands. "We all have a responsibility to make meetings effective, whether you're hosting or the attendee." So speak up diplomatically to get the meeting back on track. That means listening to the tangent-taker's point, expressing appreciation for it -- then suggesting you'll get back to it later. "If it's truly a stopper you need to have the guts to politely excuse yourself and ask them to text you when they get back to the agenda items," he adds.
5) You think don't need an agenda -- you'll just wing it. "Even if it's a simple feel-good Q&A meeting, every meeting needs a mission and an outcome statement," Petz says. "The number one problem in every meeting is lack of preparation." That goes for both hosts and attendees, in his view, and he suggests a better way: "The host and attendees should enter the meeting with 1) A clear understanding of why they're there -- the mission statement -- and 2) An understanding that by the time we are done, we're going to have accomplished -- what?"
Mark Henricks is an Austin, Texas, freelance journalist whose reporting on business, technology and other topics has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and other leading publications. Learn more about him at The Article Authority. Follow him on Twitter @bizmyths.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Rochelle, just rochelle, CC2.0