8 Ways to Beat the Bad Meeting Blues


It’s sad but true: Bad meetings happen to good people. Here are tips on running meetings that actually accomplish something.

Bad meetings are to our schedules what black holes are to the cosmos. Once you’re drawn in, you can’t escape. During particularly lengthy workplace gatherings, you may find yourself nervously looking at your watch, fearing no one will ever hear from you again. All the while, work continues to mount at your desk. When you finally emerge, you feel little was accomplished, deadlines loom closer and much of the day is lost. 

As a creative professional, you likely spend a good portion of your week in meetings and brainstorming sessions. Many of them may be painful time-wasters. So it’s no surprise the mere mention of certain meetings may fill you with dread. 

While meetings are unavoidable, they don’t have to be bad meetings. There are steps you can take to make them more streamlined and productive. If you’re running a meeting, use these eight tips to tighten up the process: 

1. Ask yourself whether the meeting has outlived its purpose 

Being social animals, people often gather out of habit. For example, back when your creative team consisted of five people, you may have gotten together every Thursday morning. But now that the team has tripled in size, perhaps the weekly sessions do more to hamper overall productivity than help it. The next time you feel the urge to convene, step back and ask yourself if you could accomplish the same objective in another way, perhaps via a group email. In a lot of cases you’ll realize you can alter its frequency, cut the meeting time in half or skip it altogether.

2. Prune the participant list 

When planning a meeting, invite only those who will be affected by the topics to be discussed or individuals who can contribute useful information. If you think someone might feel excluded if you don’t invite him or her, explain the meeting’s purpose and let that person decide whether to attend. Using care when issuing invites will be appreciated and ensure you don’t waste anyone’s time.

3. Plan ahead 

Without an agenda, it’s easy fall prey to the main driver of bad meetings — the irrelevant tangent. Sure, everyone loves talking about other stuff (that crazy request from a former client, that new Netflix series, font debates and so on), but there’s a time and place. Save it for the water cooler. To prevent off-topic side discussions, create a written list of prioritized topics to address. When the conversation strays, use it to gently guide the group back on task. If an unplanned subject comes up that truly merits discussion, table it until the next session.

4. Don’t show up empty-handed

If it’s a brainstorming or problem-solving session, encourage attendees to come prepared with ideas, concepts or sketches so the group won’t spend precious time “warming up.”

5. Start and end on time 

If a meeting is set to start at noon, begin on the hour with the most important item. Avoid the inclination to back up and reiterate points for latecomers. Otherwise, they’ll have no incentive to be punctual next time. Stop when time is up, and schedule unfinished business for another time.

6. Quarterback the conversation 

Meetings can become marathon sessions if one person (yourself included) dominates the discussion. If you’ve called the session, it’s your job to prevent this by making sure others are asked for their input. The best ideas don’t necessarily come from the most vocal people.

7. Keep the spotlight on solutions 

It’s all too easy to talk about problems and pet peeves. It often feels good to vent, and people can spend a surprising amount of time doing it. While some rehashing of recent events or frustrations may be cathartic, if remedies aren’t identified, the time will be wasted. Steer the conversation away from gripes and toward solutions.

8. Don’t let good ideas vanish into the ether 

During wide-ranging conversations, sometimes dates, decisions and even bright ideas aren’t captured. Make sure to ask a specific person to keep track of and note all action items and other key information. These summary notes should be distributed to all participants as a record of what occurred.

What steps do you take to avoid bad meetings?

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Tags: Meetings