Let's face it – meetings are a necessary evil. They encourage communication, sharing of sensitive information, and help facilitate teamwork; and yet, meetings have proven to be an incredible drain of time and resources from a company.
Because of the ubiquity of meetings, there are many myths about how “effective” meetings should be conducted. But with the steady decline of meeting productivity, these myths no longer hold true.
It’s time to bust these misleading myths and stem the tide of unproductive meetings once and for all.
Myth #1: Everyone should speak their mind
This myth is actually true.
Well, sort of.
It is in fact true that everyone SHOULD have an equal say in a meeting, but depending on how comfortable the team is around each other, there are a lot of situational nuances that can emerge during a meeting that have the potential to hinder attendee participation.
What happens when you're sitting in a round-robin style meeting expecting the one or two attendees who consistently share relevant insights with you one-on-one, but they’re just not speaking up? The truth is, those individuals aren’t comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, and therefore, keep their insights to themselves. This is, of course, a tricky balance – you want people to engage in your meetings, but you also don’t want anybody to feel alienated.
Meetings are often designed with extroverts in mind which can make introverted individuals seem disengaged in meetings, but the truth is they listen and think more than they speak. In fact, 1 in 2 people of the general public are introverted, so there is a chance that half of your meeting attendees will be uncomfortable to speak up – a few of them may even be managers and executives.
To get the highest quality responses as possible, try leaving some time during a meeting for quiet reflection to allow everyone to gather their thoughts. These thoughts can be spoken aloud during the meeting, or they could be written down and delivered through email or group chat. If you force someone to speak when they don’t want to, you’re likely to get a lesser thought-out version of what that person would have liked to have said, or you could get anything at all. Even extroverts need some time to process something before they can speak about it.
If you expand your meeting feedback loop in non-verbal ways, you create a calm, positive environment that helps builds trust and prevents the chance of sidetracked conversations.
Myth #2: PowerPoint brings more engagement
Providing visuals always gives a certain “je ne sais quoi” to meetings. People are inherently visual learners, so seeing words and images on a screen helps people learn information faster and helps them retain it for much longer. We see this supported in academia especially, but how often do we find ourselves in a situation where we are reading a PowerPoint and glazing over what the speaker is saying (or vice-versa)?
When we support our meetings with some visual stimuli, we’re hoping grab the attention of the room – but that can only if done correctly. If we create a PowerPoint presentation – which takes time out of the day to begin with – it's easy to overload people with too much information. Once people feel like they are over encumbered with too much information, there’s a slim chance they will retain any of it. It's so easy to split people's focus, and complicated PowerPoints increase the chance of losing everyone's full attention.
Some have even gone to lengths to ban PowerPoint presentations altogether, which creates only one, effective channel of communication in a simple face-to-face meeting. An we’re not suggesting you take such an extreme approach. But, if you must use a presentation in your meetings, take a page from Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 presentation rule: 10 Slides, 20 minutes, 30-point font. That way, you’re getting the best of both worlds; you keep the focus on the speaker, while engaging meeting attendees with clever visuals.
Myth #3: Everyone should be there
So, you want everyone to be on the same page during your meetings, right?
After all, that's the whole reason you hold meetings. Meeting FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) can be detrimental to people's work, resulting in gaps in team communication and duplicated efforts or misinformation that could derail your business efforts. It’s important to keep everyone informed, but the idea that everyone has to attend every single team meeting is not only false, but it can actually further impede people's work.
Paul Graham, a prominent venture capitalist, wrote an essay almost a decade ago explaining the difference between a maker's schedule and a manager's schedule that’s still relevant today.
"The manager's schedule is for bosses. It's embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals... When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster."
He explains how a maker, an individual who works in longer sprints, needs more uninterrupted time to complete a task. Sometimes the calibre of these tasks built from scratch require days to fully complete from start to finish. When a maker is constantly interrupted by meetings, it ruins their focus and ultimately postpones their deadlines. A manager, on the other hand, generally works with a quicker rhythm – oftentimes from hour to hour. They jump from meetings to tasks in a much smaller time frame, so their schedule isn’t greatly stunted by meetings.
Most of us work on a manager's schedule, but there are ways we can keep makers in the loop without interrupting their work. The prevalence of AI assistants in the workplace is on the rise. AI-powered meetings assistants can be incredibly useful to level the playing field between makers and managers, as they automatically transcribe meeting summaries and organize them into an easily accessible team dashboard, allowing makers to catch up and read the meeting transcription at another time. This way, makers don’t have to worry about missing important information discussed in a meeting, while at the same time leaving their focus undivided.
Let’s wrap this up…
Anything with such ubiquity will have endless ideas and theories; meetings are no exception. There are countless ways to host meetings; some are traditional, tried and true methods, other ideas are not so conventional, but can prove effective in the right environment. Though meetings are notoriously awful and rarely done well, there are foolproof ways to run an effective meeting – like writing a meeting agenda, inviting only the people that have to be there, and inviting an AI meeting assistant to reduce the frequency of mundane meeting tasks (like taking meeting minutes) so everyone can focus on the meetings with undivided attention. No matter how you choose to conduct your meetings, the most important thing you can do is to be organized, to communicate clearly, and ensure your team is on the same page.