Something I recently read on TechRepublic struck a nerve. In “The art and science of effective meetings ,” Elaine Cherry Wood presents some great tips for improving the quality of business meetings. It’s the kind of article everyone who schedules and leads a meeting should read.

But I want more than efficiency in my meetings; I want brevity. I suggest the hatchet approach. I’m calling on all IT professionals to join me in an experiment. Let’s shorten all our meetings by 20 percent. Who’s with me?

Encourage brevity
First, let me say that I’m whining only about in-house meetings. If you’re meeting with clients or potential business partners, take as long as you need. I’m talking about team and department meetings and meetings about meetings. Here are my suggestions for making these meetings more productive.

  • Trim the time. If a meeting is scheduled for an hour, reschedule it for 48 minutes. If a meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes, adjourn in 24.
  • Don’t eat. Eating slows meetings down because, invariably, someone will ask you a question as soon as you’ve taken that first bite of blueberry cake donut.
  • Talk about brevity. If you’re leading the meeting, remind everyone to be succinct. (For those who love to hear themselves talk, try a five-minute time limit for reports.)
  • Announce the two-minute warning. Make a brief announcement when it’s two minutes before the scheduled end of the meeting.

Resist the temptation to ask the last-minute question
If you’re like me, you’ve committed this sin more times than you care to admit. The meeting is about to wind up, and everyone’s gearing up to get out. The manager says, as a courtesy, “Anybody got anything else?” And you blurt out, “Oh, I do have one thing. What about –?”

At that point, one of two things can happen.

  1. The manager can field the question, and everyone will glare at you as they sink back into meeting mode for five more grueling minutes.
  2. The manager can say, “Let’s save that one for the next meeting” or “Let’s talk about that offline.”

Too often it’s #1, right? If you’re in a meeting, try to resist the temptation to ask the last-minute question. If you’re leading the meeting, try to remember #2.
My theory is that shortening meeting times will force us to make our meetings run more efficiently and give us back more time to get our work done. If you try out this tip, please send me a note and let me know how it goes. If you’d like to suggest other ways to improve meeting efficiency, please post a comment below or drop us a note.