Meeting Etiquette – Using the Time Wisely

When I was employed, I noticed that different companies had vastly different approaches to meetings.  Some people I had worked for rarely had meetings, whereas others may as well have lived in the conference room.  At the beginning of my working life, I never really noticed this.  It is probably because at 16 I didn’t really care about how my time was being used or wasted in work.  Meetings were a chance for me to get away from my screen, sit and drink my tea, and watch discussions taking place.  If I was lucky, the meeting would finish just before it was time to go to lunch or to go home.


As I got older, and moved into more senior roles, my time became more valuable to me.  Although I was going to get paid my salary as usual no matter how many meetings I had, my workload was higher.  The demands on my time got bigger.  I planned my deadlines around my day, so if I received an unexpected meeting invite at the last minute, or a 5 minute chat turned into an hour long meeting, it would impact my plan.


As a business owner, my time has become even more precious to me.  However, meetings are vital to my business.  I use them to meet new potential clients, catch up with existing clients and plan projects.  I also meet with other entrepreneurs simply to bounce ideas around and learn from them.  So it is important to ensure that my meetings are an effective use of my time.  However, sometimes we go to meetings that are very ineffective.  This can be for varied reasons, but I have added a few pointers below to help you get the best out of your meetings:


Have a clear objective
Is this meeting to discuss ideas for something?  Is it to sell them something? Or is it just to have a chat socially?  This may seem obvious but I have been to meetings where I have had no real idea what it is about.  So if you are hosting a meeting, make sure you let people know.  It doesn’t have to have an agenda as such (although they are helpful) but you can put it on the title of your calendar invite, if that’s how you arrange it.  Or you could mention when you are arranging it, why don’t we meet up and discuss x, y and z?  Likewise, if you have been invited to attend a meeting and are unsure why, then just ask!


Consider the duration
Are you catching up with staff members on a weekly basis?  If so, it may only need 15-20 minutes.  However, if you are meeting a client or customer to discuss your progress on a monthly or quarterly basis, you may need to allocate an hour or two.  There is no point booking too much time if it isn’t needed.  Likewise, you don’t want to overrun a meeting because you were unrealistic about how long the discussion would take.  If you are unsure, it may be worth asking the other attendees their opinion.  You can simply say, I think it would be great if we could go through our weekly progress every Friday afternoon, do you think an hour will be enough to cover this?


Stick to the point
Have you ever been in a messaging group in WhatsApp/Slack and two members start talking about something between themselves? Everyone else keeps getting the notifications that has no relevance to them.  It can be frustrating, can’t it?  This exact situation used to happen to me in meetings.  I’d be in a conference room with 12 people, and the conversation had veered off-topic to the point where 2 people were engaged in a back and forth conversation (sometimes with the host) and the other 10 were just sitting there.  Occasionally, the conversation would be important for others to hear, which is fine.  However, there were situations when it was just a waste of everybody else’s collective time.  If you are hosting a meeting, you need to remember the meeting objective and stick to it.  If people need to discuss something separately then this can be done at another time.


Follow up
If there are actions to be taken by people, make a note of them and follow them up.  It doesn’t have to be a formal document showing the meeting minutes if you don’t need that.  As the host, you can send a quick email saying who agreed to complete each task, and when they agreed to do it by.  If this is a regular meeting, it could be that these actions are ticked off and reviewed at the next meeting.  But they must be followed up.  If actions have a loose deadline, or worse, no deadline at all, they may never be completed and it negates the point.


Appreciate the attendee(s)
Whether you’re meeting to “pick someone’s brains”, or having them assist you, you need to appreciate that person’s investment.  If they are investing their time, knowledge and experience for your benefit, you should compensate them in some way.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be a payment of money. It could be a thank you coffee, or maybe lunch during the meeting.  You could also offer your own knowledge, and swap your skills.  Either way, it is simple politeness to thank the person in some small way.


Meeting people is a great way to build relationships and share information.  I love hearing about people and their businesses and how they got into their line of work.  I have always been someone who loves to socialise, so getting to know the people behind the businesses is wonderful.  However, time is extremely valuable, so I try to ensure everyone involved gets something they need from it.  There is nothing worse than wasting your time, because there is no way of getting it back.


Do you have any tips for holding effective meetings? I would also love to hear about your tried and tested methods of dealing with potentially wasteful demands on your time.

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