How to keep meetings short: 5 insightful tricks to try

In the never ending pile of meeting tips, here are 5 five more:

  • Split discussions from meetings. A meeting between 4 people where they are developing ideas, exploring alternatives and going deep is one thing: that’s a discussion. An entirely different thing is meeting centered on status reports, announcements, and other boring low priority stuff. Make the difference clear. If you’re doing the former, it should be a small group, and the meeting can go as long as it needs to. If it’s the later, it should be a bigger group, and it should be as short as possible (conversations lasting more than 60 seconds in status meetings should spawn a separate discussion with the 3 people who actually care to do more than offer commentary). If you respect the difference between these two kinds of meetings, people they will respect you by showing up.
  • Pick the right person to run the meeting. Some people are good at facilitating, knowing how to cut off rambles and distractions, but yet not being a gestapo who crushes things that need to be said. Someone has to put up a prioritized agenda, clarify who owns resolving each issue, and keeps the entire show on time so it ends early enough that everyone won’t be late for the next meeting (or, even better, for getting back to doing real work). If meetings are poorly run, or there are too many, always blame the boss even if they don’t run the (bad) meetings, they are choosing who is and are responsible for the organization’s meeting culture.
  • Making the meeting rooms 5 degrees colder than everywhere else. I’m only half joking with this one. First it keeps people awake, second it gives them a biological reason to want to resolve issues and get out of the room quickly. Similiarly people assume a 60 minute meeting is obligated to use all 60 (a good facilitator is trying to end the meeting early). For discussions, of course you want people to be comfortable, but for meetings, you always want people thinking: how do I handle this concisely? What is the minimum amount I need to share to get the maximum value? Would this be better in email?
  • Remove the chairs from the room. This is an old one, popularized by SCRUM for their standing meeting idea. If people have to stand they are less prone to rambling, to distraction, and have the sense they are on the way to something else, all good qualities for most status type meetings to have. I’ve always loved the 3 question model SCRUM advocates. Instead of resume length status reports, it’s boom boom boom, next. The cultural assumption is concision, not grandstanding.
  • Have uncomfortable chairs. Just saw this on These are chairs designed to be uncomfortable or difficult to sit in at all, so people don’t want to stay long. The talking head chair is my favorite.

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5 Responses to “How to keep meetings short: 5 insightful tricks to try”

  1. Kevin

    How about one simple rule… vote with your feet and leave. If a meeting isn’t valuable and you don’t need to be there, then just leave.

    Otherwise, I feel like too much time is spent villifying meetings as a big waste of time. I am not talking about Scott personally here, but rather generally. The bigger problem I find in my own work is that I am not spending *enough* time meeting with people, and too much time trying to be a hero on my own.

  2. Scott

    You’re right. Meetings shouldn’t be vilified. It’s the people who run them poorly that are the villains.

    I like voting with feet. I believe most meetings should be optional. If the topic isn’t important to you, why should you be expected to go? I’m pretty sure I advocate this in Making Things Happen. It’s a good test. If you call a meeting, and say its optional, and no one comes, well, you know you’re making some big and bad assumptions about your team. It’s good feedback.

  3. Runa

    >”<Mr.Berkun, The Myths of Innovation…

  4. Paul Ritchie

    Another variation on the “uncomfortable” theme is to use a room that is slightly too small. It works wonders to keep folks focused and discourages the merely curious from poking their heads in…

  5. Peter Hickman

    How about not having meetings unless you need them? No matter how fast they are not having them will be an even better use of peoples time.


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