For better or worse, meetings are a large part of our professional lives. Some days you just bounce from one meeting to the next. And we've all wondered... is it really a good use of our time? It's possible to accomplish incredible things in meetings, but it's just as easy to waste hours sitting there zoning in and out of conversations or information that may not be relevant to what you do. Distractions abound and just because we're in a meeting doesn't change the deadlines we have on deliverables. Much has been written on this topic already.
These are some tactics we've found to be helpful. Hopefully they'll save you some time this week and make your meetings more impactful.
#1 Just Say No
There's waaaaaaay too much "CYA" in advertising these days. In meetings, that takes the shape of inviting anyone and everyone who might in any way be remotely impacted by the subject of the meeting. Resist the urge. If you're scheduling the meeting, take another pass over the invites and ask yourself whether each person really needs to be there. Consider the deliverables everyone is tasked to. Is this meeting more important than those deliverables? If you're not sure what deliverables they're tasked to, you need a better agency management system.
If you're the attendee, don't be afraid to challenge the invite. Before you accept it, respond with the simple question; Do you really need me in this meeting? If the scheduler can't give you a good reason why you need to be there (or responds with "I just figured you'd like to be involved"), skip it. Stay focused on what you're working on. Put a high value on your time and refuse to let anyone waste it.
#2 Lose the Distractions
Do you want to change the dynamic of your meetings? Really change it? Then ask people to leave their laptops behind when they come to the meeting. Put a basket in the center of the table and ask everyone to drop their phones into it when the meeting starts. Eliminate distractions. You'll find that some people almost go into shock at these requests. But the reality is that if they don't have the time to focus on what you're meeting about, they don't have the time to meet. It's that simple. They're either the wrong person to be there and need to delegate the meeting to someone else, or you need to find another time to meet with them when they can actually focus on what you're talking about. Otherwise you're wasting everyone else's time while this individual is completely checked-out during your meeting (working on other things) and needs you to go back over everything anytime you have a question for them or need their input. It's frustrating. Don't do it.
#3 Shorter is Better
We've all been wronged by Microsoft and Google, in that when we set up a new meeting, the default duration is an hour. There are VERY few meetings that need to last an entire hour. Too often we schedule the meeting for an hour because most people are going to straggle in 10 minutes late and we'll have 10 minutes of chit-chat before actually getting to the point of the meeting, so it's really only a 30 minute meeting or so. Try making the meeting 30 minutes instead. Let everyone know that the meeting will start on time and end on time. If you're late, you walk into the meeting in progress and we're not wasting people's time by reviewing progress made for you. If you come to the scheduled end of the meeting and you haven't made it through the planned items, set a follow-up meeting before anyone leaves the room to cover the remaining items, but don't plow forward and throw everyone's schedule into chaos for the rest of the day. You'll find that having time pressure on meetings helps keep people focused on results - very similar to using Sprints for your teams.
#4 Scrap the Scribe
In the olden days we needed someone in the meeting to take notes - usually an Admin or a junior member of the PM or Account team. It's an annoying task and one that keeps the "scribe" from being able to fully participate in the meeting. Not surprisingly, technology has risen to the challenge and there are a plethora of solutions available to handle this menial task for you. Any speech to text app will do the job, from Microsoft's built-in dictation capability to Voicera's mobile app. There are lots of options out there many of which are free. It's not a perfect solution because NLP (Natural Language Processing) isn't 100% yet, but it's plenty good enough to quickly capture what's been said during the meeting in a text document that the PM or AE can roll through later, clean up to just the salient points and distribute to the team. All you want to distribute anyway are the Action Items, right? Nobody needs to relive the meeting word for word.
#5 Address the Issue, Not the Person
This may take some practice, but in the end it can have a significant impact on the agency's culture. Meetings can get a bit heated sometimes because people are opinionated and personality conflicts exist. None of that need impact your meetings. Establish a simple rule that states the only welcome comments are about the issue at hand, not about the people in the room (or not in the room). Keeping people focused on the issue and away from gossip, slander, etc. will not only save time but also build a culture of respect and tolerance within the agency. If you have to, you can set up a penalty jar on the table that requires $1 every time someone violates the rule to throw a jab at someone. It also works for profanity, disparaging clients, etc.
Try these tactics in your next meetings and let us know what you think. If you have other techniques that have worked for you, share those in the comments below. We'll do a follow-up post later this year that includes the ideas shared by readers.
If you've found this blog post helpful, check out our other posts - they're chalk-full of useful info for anyone in advertising. We live, eat and breathe Advertising at Advantage because that's where most of us came from and what we've custom-designed our agency management system to do. AQUA provides ad agencies with an integrated management system that brings Accounting, Project Management, Operations and Media into one comprehensive solution for better efficiency, insights and profits. Schedule a free online demo to see what a purpose-built agency solution looks like!