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Tame the meeting beast with these 8 tips

Published February 23, 2012 8:31 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If it takes all your fingers and toes to count the number of times you've been in meetings that you deemed stupid, unproductive, boring or frustrating, you're not alone.

Workers judge nearly 50 percent of their meetings to be a waste of time. And nearly everyone has horror stories of meetings that run on for hours and the blowhards who monopolize them. That's why Jon Petz contends the meetings aren't the problem; it's the people who run them.

If blowhards are shut down, if agendas and time limits are strictly enforced and if people are free to skip gatherings on topics that don't involve them, then meetings wouldn't get such a bad rap, says Petz, a motivational speaker and author of Boring Meetings Suck (Wiley, $22.95).

"Often it's the meeting facilitator who is responsible for things going wrong, such as inviting too many people," Petz say. Another big problem: a lack of agenda.

Years ago Petz says he started declining invitations to meetings with no agenda. The practice became known around the office as the "Jon Petz rule."

"Everyone has a responsibility to make a meeting productive," Petz says. With that in mind, Petz offers some tips for making death by meeting a thing of the past. Among his suggestions:

Stand up • Many companies have found success by removing chairs from a conference room and supplying only a white board. This eliminates a tendency to ramble about unnecessary issues. Aching feet prompt attendees to get down to business quickly, Petz says.

Pass the pad • The last one to enter the room has to take notes for the meeting. This prevents many people from being late because they don't want to be stuck with the job.

Get moving • Sitting in a stuffy room trying to come up with innovative ideas can be draining, so move the meetings to a stairwell or walk outside. If you use the stairs, each participant has one flight to make a pitch or give a status report.

Try a speed meeting • Each participant is given 2 minutes to share information, such as sales figures or project updates. Follow-up questions are given 1 minute.

Build in social time • Make it part of the agenda.

"I'm a big fan of socialization, but that needs to be put in the meeting format," Petz says. "Put in the agenda that the meeting starts at 10 a.m., and there will be 10 minutes for bagels and coffee. "

Once meeting times are strictly followed, the message will become clear and he says attendees won't be late.

Vary the time limit • If you deem a meeting will last an hour, it will last an hour if you have four items or 12 items to discuss, Petz says. Be willing to designate a certain amount of time per item then move on. Consider a 10-minute meeting a victory.

Create a parking lot • Ever been in a meeting that goes off the rails and you end up discussing something off topic for an hour?

Develop a system where these items are quickly identified and put in a "parking lot" to discuss later.

Remember two things • "Always ask why you're having the meeting and what you're going to walk out the door with," Petz says.

None of these steps are meant to eliminate meetings because some meetings are necessary.

"It's just incredible to me that we can have a man on the moon and invent computers, and yet most people have never learned to run meetings," Petz says. "We've just got to do a better job of respecting people's time."

Anita Bruzzese can be reached at Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22107.