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How to Keep Meetings From Wasting Your Time and Money

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

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How to Keep Meetings From Wasting Your Time and Money Ask anyone in business to list their top three complaints about the professional life at their firm and no doubt you’ll find “time wasted in meetings” on that list.  Meetings have become events to dread and avoid whenever possible. Poorly run meetings waste more than just time—they’re expensive as well. Consider a professional services firm where the average billing rate is $300 per hour. A ninety-minute meeting of twelve people costs the firm $5,400. If the same group meets once a month, the yearly cost is almost $65,000. That’s a small firm; do the math for larger organizations and you’ll see how quickly the costs add up. Are organizations realizing a high return on that investment? Meetings don’t have to be the time-money-productivity vortexes they’ve become in many places. A common cause of unproductive meetings is the poorly planned and executed presentation.

Here are five guidelines on presentations in meetings to make sure yours run more productively:

1. Don’t use presentations in a meeting when a memo or email would serve as a better form of communication. Is the lengthy PowerPoint presentation, endless recitation of facts and information dump really necessary to get the points across? Consider this; we speak approximately 150 words per minute. Most people can read between 250-350 words per minute. A memo or email may be a much more efficient way to communicate. Ask yourself why a presentation would be better. If you cannot answer the question, cut it. Meetings are poor venues to simply share information people could more easily read on their own.

2. When presentations are necessary, impose and enforce time limits. Let people know how long they have to present. If they’ve prepared properly, they’ll know how much information they can get through in that allotted time. When they exceed it, stop them and move on to the next agenda item. Allowing someone to ramble on or simply “talk about” an issue can quickly spiral out of control.  

3. Ask people to save their questions until the end of the presentation.  Meetings can get derailed irreparably by tangential and unrelated questions. Assign someone to facilitate the question segment. They should first make sure the question is relevant and appropriate. Next, they should determine if the question is of interest to the larger group. If it isn’t, they should ask the presenter and questioner to follow-up after the meeting. They should be charged with keeping both the presenter and the questioner on track.

4. Impose a “no technology zone” during the meeting. If the presenter is using a computer slide show, that’s fine. For everyone else, that means no texting, emailing, web browsing or twittering. Interacting with cell phones and computers during a meeting is both discourteous and unproductive.  How many times have you seen a person who was engrossed in text messaging bring up a point that had already been discussed? I know a managing partner who begins meetings he chairs by announcing: “Unless you anticipate a call from the President of the United States during the next ninety minutes, please turn off your cell phones.”

5. Give your attention to the speaker. Side conversations can distract everyone. An attentive audience will help the meeting move more smoothly and increase comprehension and retention. You’d expect people to listen while you’re speaking, so you should extend the same consideration to others. There’s a lot of redundant information repeated in meetings. Keeping everyone fully engaged will help cut out much of it.

Meetings will continue, but they can be shorter and more productive. Set expectations and make certain people understand them. Apply these five guidelines to the presentations for your next meeting and you’re guaranteed to see results.

©2009 Peak Communication Performance. Affluent Magazine’s Presentation Expert, Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D., shows executives how to design, develop and deliver effective presentations.  He has shown audiences from 30 countries how to apply the principle that “Better Communication Means More Business.”  He is the author of Rainmaking Presentations: How To Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise, to be released by Palgrave Macmillan in January ’09. When you book him to show your organization how to create more professional presentations, you’re guaranteed a high return on your investment. For more information, please email him at

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