Have More Productive Meetings in 4 Steps


In any given week, I average being in between 15 to 20 meetings.  That’s an average of 3 meetings per day, and that’s the low end for most employees–I know many people in upper management whose entire 9-5 job is meetings.

Given that we spend so much time in meetings, it amazes me how few of them are done well.  Meetings in the comedy world are equally horrendous, if not worse.  Whether it’s a writer’s session, an improv practice, or a rehearsal, it’s easy for time to pass with no meaningful work getting accomplished.

Having a productive meeting isn’t even that hard to do, you just need 4 things:

1. Have an Agenda. Always.

I know some people who won’t even attend a meeting unless they know the agenda (oh to be so bold).  An agenda does three things:

  1. Allows the people attending to mentally prepare for the meeting before-hand.
  2. Forces the meeting organizer to really think about what the point of the meeting is.
  3. Makes it easier to stay on-track during the meeting since you actually know what the track is.  Having no agenda is like a train running down the middle of 3rd Avenue.

2. Start on Time.  End on Time.  90 Minutes or Less.

I understand, we’re all busy.  Sometimes we’re even overbooked so we can’t make it to every meeting on time.  BUT every meeting should start right when it says it will.  The problem with “waiting for everyone to get here” is that it sets the expectation that in the next meeting you have, it’s ok to be a little late.  It also increases the likelihood of you going over the designated time, which is disrespectful to people’s calendars.

As for 90 minutes or less: unless it’s an all-day training session, any more than an hour and a half is too long for anyone to stay focused and away from their crack email.

3. Take Notes.

Ideally, every meeting would have somebody designated to take meeting notes (but not the agenda owner–there’s too much to do to do both).  If a meeting notetaker isn’t present, you should be taking personal notes.  Why?

  1. Taking notes keeps you focused on the meeting.  You have to be writing down what’s going on and what’s important so you’re forced to pay attention.
  2. At the end of the meeting you’ll have a list of any action items you need to take (see Step 4).
  3. It’s fun.  I love reading old meeting notes.  Not only do I read about myself in the third person–“Drew to follow-up with Amy”– I also make myself laugh because I always throw in some humor in my meetings notes–“We have to keep pace with the rest of the industry.  Do companies that make pacemakers say the same thing? Cuz I’d hope they’d just keep pace with a heartbeat.”

4. Next Steps (aka Action Items (aka Next Action Step Items)).

Probably the most important item on here is this one, #4.  Every meeting should end with Next Steps.  If there are no Next Steps after a meeting, then the meeting wasn’t necessary (email would’ve worked).  Next Steps make sure sitting in a room with people for X hours turns into action, and action turns into results, whereby results turn into success.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to write the agenda for my next writer’s session.  The key tasks are: 1) Write funny stuff, 2) Write more funny stuff, 3) Eat pizza.

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