9 Tips for Productive, Hyper-efficient Meetings

Alex Sharp
5 min readJul 23, 2013

Collaboration is key to doing meaningful work, especially creative work. Meetings and conference calls are one of the best ways to enable group collaboration and break down geographic barriers, but a poorly run meeting can be be counter-productive, wasteful and draining for everyone involved.

Meetings and conference calls have a way of wandering off track if not run properly. This is especially true at smaller companies where employees are often less experienced at running and participating in meetings, and where process is often under.

On the other hand, a well-run meeting can be a massive boon to productivity, helping everyone communicate better and achieve a state of shared consciousness about their goals. This post provides some reusable guidelines for keeping meetings efficient and useful.

1. Always have an agenda.

A meeting agenda is more than just a description for the meeting. An agenda should be an actionable set of guidelines for what you need to accomplish on the call.

Most importantly, the agenda should be clearly communicated ahead of time. That means that if you create the appointment in Google Calendar and then set the agenda, be sure to send an email update to everyone so they have all the relevant details about the meeting.

For example, let’s imagine we have a call with design and engineering to discuss implementation of new landing pages. Instead a simple meeting title such as “Landing Page Chat”, a well-formed agenda might look like this:

  • Review and discuss design comps for new landing page designs (10 mins)
  • Discuss implementation details, possible risks and hurdles (10 mins)
  • Agree on a timeline and action items (5 mins)

Total Time: 25-30 minutes

Having pre-timed, planned out sections helps everyone have a sense of the expected pace of the call, and it makes it a lot easier for the host to keep the call on track.

2. Provide all necessary context and materials ahead of time.

If you have a slide deck, design comps, metrics reports, or anything else you’re showing during the call, be sure to send it out to the team well ahead of time to give everyone a chance to digest what you’re going to discuss. This allows people to form a frame of reference prior to the call, so everyone is well-informed and ready to discuss the matter at hand. You’ll have much more focused and relevant discussions about the material that matters, rather than waiting for people to catch up as they digest the material on the call.

If you’re hosting calls, take it upon yourself to set a reminder to send the materials out to everyone at least an hour ahead of time. And make it part of your routine to make sure you have everything together leading up to the call.

3. Start on time.

It seems like a no-brainer, yet most meetings don’t start on time. Starting meetings on time is just like starting the day right. Wake up early with a spring in your step and your entire day will be a breeze; wake up on the wrong side of the bed and it’s all down hill from there. Meetings are the same way.

Meetings that routinely start 5-10 minutes late set a precedent that says “this isn’t all that important” and “everyone’s time here is disposable”. Worse yet, meetings that don’t start on time are contagious within a company.

Meetings start late for two reasons: either the host is running behind, or the host waits to start the meeting until everyone is present. If you’re a host who is routinely late, start taking your responsibility as a host more seriously.

Always start the call at the scheduled start time, even if others are running late. The reality is that in a meeting of 5 people, the odds are not in your favor for everyone to be on time, every time. Unexpected things happen, people make mistakes, schedules overlap. If people are occasionally late, don’t sweat it. Start on time and they can get an update from the meeting notes you’ll send out following the call, or by following up with the host directly afterwards.

4. Cancel recurring meetings if you’ve got nothing to discuss.

Recurring meetings can quickly turn to massive time and productivity sucks. Once a group has settled into a routine, people often go into autopilot mode. All of the problems that plague meeting productivity in general are particularly acute for recurring meetings. So, if you’ve got nothing to discuss one week, don’t hesitate to cut the meeting short or cancel it altogether.

5. Stick to the agenda.

It can be tempting in meetings, especially recurring meetings, for people to wander off track and waste precious time discussing things not relevant to the purpose of the meeting. Sometimes this happens because it can be difficult to get a particular group of people together in one room again, so people take this time to tackle off-agenda issues.

Fight this urge and don’t hesitate to suggest taking a particular line of discussion offline. Stick to the agenda, simple as that.

6. The host must play moderator when necessary.

If discussion does wander off track, it’s the explicit responsibility of the host to steer it back on track. This is an important responsibility in order to stay on track and productive. There’s certainly a delicate art to cutting off discussion on a topic prematurely, but it’s a skill worth mastering. It will keep the group more productive and energized.

7. Close the meeting with action items.

At the end of the meeting, if people have responsibilities that emerged from the discussion, it’s important to enumerate action items to the entire group. This creates a shared sense of responsibility, and it makes each individual accountable to the group, rather than just the host.

8. Finish on time.

Finishing on time is just as important as starting on time, but it’s completely dependent on doing all the other things right. To finish on time, you must start on time, and you’ve got to stay on track during the call.

9. Send out an email summary after the call.

An email summary of the meeting to the group serves as a helpful reference for participants, especially if action items emerged from the meeting.

If you’re looking for a better way to run your conference calls, consider signing up for Octocall, a new tool to help teams be more efficient on meetings and conference calls.

Note: This is a cross post.

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Alex Sharp

🛠 building https://followreset.com. https://sharesecret.co. platform @upfrontvc. prev consultant, founding team @zaarly. long ago: health care tech, economics.