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How to Conduct “Smart” Meetings
by Jessica Thiefels
April 28, 2022
Group of multiracial young creative team in meeting

Despite the expansive evolution that the business world has gone through in the last few years, one thing is still the same: time is money, and wasted time is wasted money.

It’s this mindset that’s driven the “smart” meeting revolution among organizations of all sizes.

In the last few years, many studies have shown that meetings are minimally effective and actually cost the organization thousands of dollars annually—a collective 37 billion annually, according to (This will hit home when you use the Meeting Costs Calculator from Harvard Business Review to get a rough estimate of your company’s meeting expenditure.)

When your head stops spinning from the number that the calculator just gave you, take the following ideas to your organization. You’ll stop spending, start saving and be a more effective company.

Create a “Meeting Leader” Position

Every meeting is initiated by someone, whether it’s a manager, an associate or an executive. When conducting “smart” meetings, this person will now become the “meeting leader.” Their job is to ensure that the meeting they’re leading is both efficient and effective. 

Duties of the “meeting leader” include:

  • Complete the pre-meeting form (see below)
  • Explain the format of the meeting before it starts, reiterating topics to be covered and goals
  • Set a timer
  • Keep the meeting on track—reel in side conversations and off-topic asides
  • Wrap the meeting with five minutes left so there’s time for last-minute questions, final notes, etc.

Initiate a Pre-Meeting Form

Does your organization have a clear plan for every meeting? The answer is likely, “Well, I usually have in mind what I want to accomplish…” If this is the case, you’re not alone; 63 percent of meetings happen without a pre-planned agenda. Yet, you don’t spend ad dollars or an operational budget without a plan of action, right? So why would you spend upwards of $2,000 per meeting without those pieces in place?

This is why a pre-meeting form is a must-have resource for your organization. A simple form holds everyone accountable for the meeting they’re about to go into.

Use the questions below to create an initial template:

  • Meeting leader (so attendees can send questions in advance)
  • Time
  • Subject of meeting
  • Expected outcome
  • Resources people should bring with them

Customize this list to make it specific to your organization, and keep a template in Google docs. This makes it easy for employees to access quickly and easily. Remember, you want to be saving time, not spending more of it.

Have everyone print this, or pull it up on their computers. This keeps everyone on topic and focused, including the leader and the attendees.

Set a Time Limit—and Let People Leave

Running past the expected time impacts everyone in the meeting, including the business as a whole. “When meetings run overtime, it not only wastes people’s time in the meeting, but it also negatively impacts other projects that need to be accomplished,” says Peter B. Stark, President of Peter Barron Stark Companies.

The key is to set a time limit—but also let people leave if the “meeting leader” runs over that time. If you’ve stayed in meetings well past their initial ending time, you know the gnawing feeling of having something else to do, but not wanting to be the one who gets up and leaves. This rule keeps the leader on their toes—they don’t want to be the person who was walked out on. Make it more effective with a timer projected onto the wall (one of the “meeting leader’s” duties).

Create tiered time options for the “meeting leader” to choose from:

  • 5 to 15 minutes
  • 30 minutes
  • 45 minutes
  • 1 hour

If a meeting must last longer than an hour, consider requiring a post-meeting form to ensure every moment was accounted for. While employees don’t need to be micro-managed, creating a culture of efficiency in the organization takes time and persistence.

Start On Time Every Time

Most meetings have one or two late-comers. As they sneak in the door, they whisper or mouth, “So sorry for being late,” while tiptoeing over to their seat to avoid “disturbing” anyone. Their mere lateness, however, is a disturbance to the meeting, and it also sets a bad precedent:

“Waiting for stragglers sends two messages. To the stragglers, it says it’s OK to be late to meetings. To the people who showed up as scheduled, it says their time isn’t valuable. Start meetings on time, every time: the stragglers will learn to be more prompt and the already-prompt employees will appreciate the measure,” explain experts at The Office Club.

The question is: how do you make it clear that being late is a no-no? Here are a few ideas from experts:

  • Charge them: Have late-comers put money in a tardy jar. That money can then be used on snacks and beverages for future meetings. (Stever Robbins, Get-It-Done Guy)
  • Don’t stop: Don’t pause the meeting to update the person, unless “absolutely necessary,” and continue as normal. (
  • Make consequences clear: “When a team member doesn’t follow through on a commitment, explain the consequences of his actions. If he is late to a client meeting, say something like, ‘The client waited ten minutes for you to arrive. I had to ask Ashley to fill in for you.’ Perhaps the employee doesn’t realize (although he should) that his behavior affects his co-workers, as well.” (Jacqueline Whitmore, business etiquette expert)

Note: Being late once or twice is reasonable, we’ve all dealt with bad traffic or last-minute crises, so reserve these methods for chronic late-comers.

Is Your Organization Ready for “Smart” Meetings?

Before bringing these “smart” meeting ideas to your organization, poll employees, asking how they feel about meetings within the organization and whether they’re valuable. During this time, have everyone, executives included, share how many meetings they attend weekly. This is your baseline to compare with the “smart” meeting data (send around the same poll a month after starting with these new ideas).

Track, tweak and adjust as you go to stop wasting time and start saving money.

About the author
Jessica Thiefels
Jessica Thiefels is the author of 10 Questions That Answer Life’s Biggest Questions, podcast host of Mindset Reset Radio and founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, an organic content marketing agency. She's been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur.
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