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6 essential tips to improve your meetings

29 Nov 2017
Group sitting around a table for a meeting

Unnecessary and overlong meetings can be a blight upon our working lives. To help you make sure those meetings matter, we got some valuable tips from Caroline Webb, a former leadership coach at McKinsey and Co. who specialises in behavioural science…

In 2016, a survey of over 1,000 British people who work in an office environment revealed that they spent 3 hours and 42 minutes a week in meetings.

Over the course of a 40-year working career, those meetings will take up two years of their lives.

The survey, commissioned by eShare and carried out by TLF Research, also revealed that 30% of respondents thought most meetings were either inefficient or should be shorter, while more than 45% admitted that their minds tended to wander away from the agenda.

So, how can you ensure that your meetings are productive and worthwhile, rather than leaving your audience to think, ‘that’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back”?

Caroline Webb is an economist who spent 12 years as a partner and leadership coach at renowned management consultants McKinsey & Co. In 2012, she founded Sevenshift, a behavioural science firm, and is the author of How to Have a Good Day, which Forbes named as ‘one of the must-read business books of 2016’.

She says: “We often focus attention on what we’re discussing – the document we’re sharing, the decision we need to make, the message we want to get across – and very little to how we’re having the conversations.

“The number of times I’ve seen smart people spend long weeks putting together a presentation, followed by just a few minutes – often on the way to the meeting – on how to make the most of them… It’s a huge missed opportunity.”

Here are half a dozen of Webb’s essential tips to holding a successful meeting…

1. Preparation

Set out your intentions beforehand, including your main priority for the meeting. Challenge any negative expectations and decide where you want to focus your attention.

“Which specific actions will help you make those intentions a reality, and what’s going to get in the way of things going as you hope?” she asks. “If you’re stressed about the meeting, use physical feedback loops – smile broadly, breathe deeply, spread yourself out – shoulders back, head up, feet firmly planted.”

Webb also advises you to think about the timing. “Make it slightly shorter than an hour or half hour to give people some mental recovery time. And don’t run over 90 minutes without a proper break.”

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