World Reimagined

Five Ways to Better Run Your Meeting

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On average, Americans spend nearly 4.5 hours a week in meetings—and virtually no one enjoys any of that time.

Meetings are the necessary evil of the corporate world. And the rise of the pandemic only made them more frequent. A Microsoft study found that people were spending double the amount of time in meetings than they were before March 2020.

Not all meetings have to be slogs, though. There are methods and psychological tricks that can make those gatherings be less painful for everyone—and can even make you stand out from the crowd when your boss calls on you.

First movers aren’t always right

Generally, the people who jump into the meeting topic have the most influence on the project, steering it with their questions and ideas. But that doesn’t mean those are the best ideas.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in 2011, wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow, which underscored the differences of thinking automatically, like reading facial cues, and deliberately, as with a math problem. In meetings, that automatic thinking often rules, but accessing the more deliberate approach can result in better decisions.

One way to do this is by building brainstorming time into a meeting, with an enforced silence to encourage people to dig deeper and write down ideas based on what they’ve heard and said.

Keep it small

The larger the meeting (and the more senior staff it involves), the more expensive it is. That’s especially true for recurring meetings. Microsoft refers to it as the “million-dollar meeting,” and the company’s Workplace Intelligence unit encourages clients to consider if those meetings are the best use of the team’s time, skills and experience.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had what he called the “two pizza rule” when it came to gatherings: If you need more than two pizzas to feed everybody, there are too many people. He reportedly wouldn’t even go into a meeting that didn’t fit that criteria. Smaller groups, he theorized, could get things done, while larger ones would get in each other’s way. The same is true of meetings.

Watch the clock

Meeting fatigue is a real thing and it’s even worse when it comes to virtual meetings. A separate study by Microsoft found that after 30-40 minutes of concentration, mental fatigue sets in—and in a meeting, that means productivity plummets. For remote workers facing days filled with video meetings, stress begins to set in after about two hours.

To combat that, researchers recommend taking regular breaks every two hours to let your brain recharge and limiting meetings to 30 minutes when possible. And when that’s not achievable, build in small breaks to let people re-energize and keep focused.

Create a safe zone

Healthy debate can yield some of the best ideas. But if someone fears they’ll be shouted down or penalized for raising an unpopular position, it could negatively impact the usefulness of the meeting.

Experts suggest not immediately jumping into a controversial topic, perhaps leading into it with something fun and letting attendees decide on a set of ground rules that ensures everyone gets to speak their piece and be heard. If done successfully, that will foster communication and confidence among employees.

Time it right

People are generally most productive in the first part of the day, so chewing up that time with a meeting is poor time management.

Do away with daily standups around the coffee machine or a morning meeting. Instead, have one after lunch, when people are generally mentally refreshed, but also a bit less productive than the morning hours. And, as a bonus, the meeting likely won’t interrupt any employee in the middle of a project. (Studies have shown that it can take 25 minutes to regain focus when interrupted.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Chris Morris

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience, more than half of which were spent with some of the Internet’s biggest sites, including CNNMoney.com, where he was Director of Content Development, and Yahoo! Finance, where he was managing editor. Today, he writes for dozens of national outlets including Digital Trends, Fortune, and CNBC.com.

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