Archives for posts with tag: Meetings

I was in a meeting a good few years ago. It could have been any meeting over the last 5 decades, or any meeting you’ve had. It was fairly typical. Some progress, but also frustrations and miscommunications.

People were not listening to each other, they weren’t answering the question that had just been made. They wanted to make their own point. As a consequence, there were some frustrations, raised voices at times, and frayed tempers. One particular person was asked what they made of the meeting, while we were still in session.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’ve heard a lot of heat, but not much light.’

And that is the essence of a good meeting, isn’t it? You want the light, you don’t want the heat. One of them illuminates, the other makes you hot and bothered. One of them makes a meeting worthwhile and a good use of the considerable resources in the room, and the other doesn’t.

Since then, I’ve tried whenever I can in meetings to provide light and not heat. After all, it’s all about productivity, forward momentum, direction, speed and group harmony. Light helps with all of those, whereas heat almost never helps with any of them.


I’ll keep this post uncharacteristically short. I’m going to put it out there. It applies for work and play.

No meeting, session, presentation and so on should be longer than an hour. Anything more is too much, unfair to the audience, not a good use of anyone’s time. It’s a productivity and attention thing.

Do we really need longer than an hour? If we do, we should split it up into sessions, with breaks. Look at the educational system, which should be focused on learning, absorbing, retaining and using information. Classes are less than an hour, and double classes should have a complete break.

The exception to this is if you, the customer, the audience member, have paid for the privilege. A film, a show, or an evening with someone. Other than that, it should be an hour, max. It’s all you should need.

Some people have job roles where they’re in a lot of meetings. Typically managers of people have this issue. Back-to-back meetings, or worse still, meetings that over-run and put them behind all day.

I often find myself in a position where I need to create stuff. I need thinking time, planning time and writing time. Meetings are the enemy in this situation. Sure, they have their purpose, and a very useful one at that, when managed properly, but not if I need sustained ‘me time’ to get my work done.

My approach to meetings is under-promise, over-deliver. Ask someone for more time than you need – don’t go mad, it’s a balance between taking their time and taking liberties – and book that time in the calendar. Then, aim to finish the meeting early. 45 minutes is a good length of time to ask for a meeting. Even if you finish on time, in all probability they’ll have a precious quarter-hour before their next commitment.

There are few things better than a meeting finishing early and giving you some of your hour or day back. And you’re grateful to the person who organised or chaired the meeting for that. It shows you that the person values your time and doesn’t waste it.

Were you ever at a school that managed its timetable in 50-minute slots, and started each class at the top of the hour? Those little 10 minutes back every hour are great for getting fiddly stuff out of the way, running quick errands and getting your head right for the next meeting.

Aim to finish your meetings early. Control them so that they do. Tell the other people that you’re done and that you’re giving them back some of their day. They’ll respect you for it and will be more inclined to grant you their time again.

Most meetings over-run. Why is that? Two reasons spring to mind. Firstly, they’re not properly managed. Secondly, we always try and pack way too much into them.

It’s not just meetings, it’s the same with presentations, anything involving an agenda, business or travel itinerary. We get too ambitious, want to cover too much and we don’t allow enough time for each item. As I’m fond of saying, we’re trying to stuff 10 pounds of dung into a 5 pound bag, with ugly and unsatisfying results.

Sometimes we deal with an item more quickly than we thought we would, but more often than not we take longer than we planned. It’s human nature, we’re social beings. With a modest amount of experience you can see straight away if an agenda is going to over-run, it’s not rocket science. I like to allow more time than I think I need for a meeting, because then I aim to finish early and give people some of their day back, rather than the other way with most meetings. It’s the temporal equivalent of under-promising and over-delivering. Then you start to garner a reputation as someone who can properly manage meetings. “I’ll go to his meeting, I’ll get something out of it and I won’t be chasing my tail for the rest of the day.”

It’s all about finding the right productivity balance between an agenda that’s too long, and one that’s too short, which then becomes prey to Parkinson’s Law. In my view though, it’s better to have a meeting with a light agenda where you get some useful discussion and some firm decisions, over a heavy agenda where you end up having to park everything and the time invested is wasted.

“Meetings, Bloody meetings!” So goes the refrain – and the heading – in the hilarious management training videos from John Cleese’s company in the 1970’s. A well-run meeting is a rare and beautiful thing. A poorly run meeting – well that’s the norm in most companies. They become a forum for delaying or avoiding decisions rather than arriving at them.

In the sales world good, well-qualified meetings with customers and prospects who have budget, the power to make decisions, a need for your product and a timeframe for making a change are worth their weight in gold. Poor meetings are a waste of your time and their time – and time is the most precious resource. They’re not even good practice.

Many managers work off the principle that the more qualified meetings you have, the more deals you’ll close. It’s largely right of course. Take two sales people with identical abilities, identical opportunities, but one with twice the opportunities of the other, and one will close 12 deals and the other will close 6. The more calls you put in, the more conversations you have, the more meetings you make, the more quotes or proposals you submit, the more deals you win, as long as you’re following a defined sales process.

It’s not only about working harder to be more successful though. It’s about working smarter, and coaching people to work smarter.  If you want your team to be more effective – ie more successful – and you’ve identified that your team needs more meetings, there are a number of things you can do to increase the performance of your sales team without having to add to your sales team. Here are ten of them:

– Is a face-to-face meeting necessary? Would a (video)conference call do? Could we do a web-based meeting?

– what’s the travel time like to meetings, from meetings, between meetings? Could it be better organised?

– could our sales team be better split geographically to optimise the number of meetings?

– is our team properly prepared for the meetings, so that they can close deals with the minimum number of meetings?

– what are the behaviours that drive more meetings? Better leads, better telephone work, better sales skills, better emails and collateral?

– who’s doing well at meetings that we can celebrate so that others can learn from their best practice?

– who needs coaching or other support to get more meetings?

– what sales technology can we use to help us manage the sales process?

– what sales technology can we use to optimise meeting routes and geographical clustering?

– what sales technology reports on meeting productivity can gives us insight to make improvements and correct poor behaviours early?

Maximising your customer contact and minimising your non-contact activities help you maximise your sales success. If your business is relatively high deal volume and small deal size, you need to make this your mantra. Meetings, blessed meetings!


Meetings – I must say I tend to loathe them unless they’re well managed, which they often aren’t.  They seem to be an excuse to put off a decision, waste some time, and avoid executing on something.  They can be really counter-productive when not done well.

My first job out of college was a management trainee role, where the company went to proper lengths to train us in the basics.  How to communicate, how to manage your time, how to manage people, how to run meetings.  25 years on, I can still see in my head the old video on ‘Meetings, Bloody Meetings’ from John Cleese‘s training company.

There’s nothing worse than a badly run, badly chaired meeting.  So, with that in mind, here are 7 top of mind thoughts on how to instantly improve your own meetings.

– Have a start time and an end time

– Stick rigidly to both

– Produce an agenda, the shorter the better

– Ideally, allocate times for each item on the agenda to fill the total time available

– Publish this in advance so that people know what prep they need to do

– If you’re managing the meeting, control it, bringing off-topic discussions back on track, and agreeing actions and ownership of those actions.  If you don’t get resolution on an item in the time available, park it and move on.  If it’s not your meeting, and it’s a shambles, send the person this blog post

– If conversations get heated, take 2 short comments on either side of the argument and move on

A good meeting energises people, making them feel confident, informed and part of the team.  A bad meeting does the opposite, simple as that.