How to Make Meetings More Productive

How much time do you waste in meetings? According to a recent study conducted by Verizon, it might be even more than you think.


Their study found that meetings now take up 37% of the average employee’s workweek—not surprising given that American businesses collectively conduct about 11 million meetings a day. An NPR piece published on January 29, 2015, confirmed these worrisome statistics, citing a Clarizen/Harris Poll survey that found that the average office worker now spends about nine hours every week preparing for and attending meetings—a massive 14% increase since as recently as 2011. To drive the point home, the article quotes business expert Al Pittampalli, who says he sees “not just marathon meetings, but meetings that are done to prepare for meetings, and meetings that are done to prepare for meetings to prepare for meetings. It is a waste of time—it’s what I call a weapon of mass interruption.”

But meetings aren’t just annoying; they’re also a huge money suck. The average five-person meeting conducted in person (assuming plane travel for four of the attendees) costs just shy of $5,200. Not traveling for your meeting? It still adds up: the average meeting at a Fortune 500 company shakes out to $527 a throw.

So how do you make meetings more productive and break free from this costly cycle of “mass interruption”? Your start by changing the way you think about meetings. While there’s no silver bullet when it comes fixing the problem, the combination of a few simple changes can work wonders.

Tips and Tricks to a Productive Meeting

  • Meetings add up. It’s important to remember that meetings come at the opportunity cost of other work. A two-hour meeting attended by 10 people equates to 20 man hours. Make sure that this expenditure is justified.
  • Preparation is the key to productivity. The Verizon-commissioned study found that there is a direct correlation between meeting productivity and preparation. Aim for fewer but better meetings; the more man hours the meeting coordinator puts in ahead of time, the fewer collective man hours will be wasted at the meeting.
  • Not all meetings are created equally. One-time meetings were deemed to be “very productive” more often than recurring meetings were. While regular meetings are important in keeping the team pointed in the right direction, it’s best to keep them short and to the point. Leave the heavy lifting for specially scheduled, one-off meetings.
  • Save money with technology. Remember that $5,200 price tag from earlier? Verizon found that video conferencing meetings cost a third of what an in-person meeting did, while being rated by respondents as similarly productive.

Meetings have a bad rap, and it’s not hard to see why: too often, they’re shambling, unproductive and all too frequent. But by putting more thought into the whys and hows of the meeting itself, and by doing plenty of prep work in advance, you can turn a necessary evil into a genuinely productive (and reasonably pleasant) experience. So go forth, put your newfound skills to work and show your staff what a productive meeting looks like!

Download our guide, How to Own Your Meetings, for more tips on increasing meeting productivity.

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