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How Good Are You at Running a Meeting?

By Marty Nemko

What words come to mind when I say the word “meetings?” For me, it’s “boring, a waste.”

I’m not alone. A study by MCI found that most professionals believe that over 50 percent of meeting time is wasted. 91 percent of those surveyed admit to daydreaming in meetings, 96 percent to missing them altogether. Seventy three percent say they have brought other work to meetings and 39 percent say that they’ve actually fallen asleep at meetings.

You’d think, therefore, that meetings were decreasing. In fact, 46 percent of those surveyed reported attending more meetings than a year ago.

Well, if meetings are inevitable, at least they should be as useful as possible. To that end, see how you do on the Meetings Effectiveness Test. Much of the content is derived from articles on

1. Which of these are good reasons to call a meeting.

a. For people give progress reports.

b. To brainstorm.

c. Both a and b.

Answer: b. Meetings are most justifiable when a problem requires real-time group problem solving. It’s usually more time-effective to give progress reports via email.

2. In general, the ideal meeting length is:

a) 15 minutes

b) 45 minutes

c) 60 minutes

Answer b: That maximizes attention span.

The remaining questions are True or False.

3. Each meeting agenda should list the topics to be discussed, for example, the company pay structure.

False. Each meeting’s agenda item should list the expected outcome, for example, an agreement on a new pay structure. That reduces the risk that the meeting will be all jawboning and no outcome.

4. In advance, the leader should send participants the agenda, including the time allocated to each item.

True. Knowing the allocated time encourages people to be time-effective in their comments.

5. Often, the leader should give participants something to prepare for the meeting. For example, for problem-solving meetings, have the group read the necessary background information and then think of one possible solution to the problem.

True. That will make the meeting more significant for each member.

6. If you know you're going to advocate for something, your opening sentence should be rehearsed.

True. First impressions matter a lot. Also, getting off to a good start will increase your confidence.

7. It’s often wisest to have a meeting first thing in the morning.

False. That’s the worst time. That’s when people are freshest and should be working on activities requiring maximum performance. Meetings are rarely that activity. Scheduling your meeting just before lunch or day’s end also encourages people to stay within the time limit—they want to get out.

8. If there's an issue you plan to argue for in a meeting, try to sit so you have eye contact with your allies and seat your opponents apart from each other.

True. Divide and conquer.

9. If some participants are late, wait five minutes before starting so you avoid having to go over material again.

False. Meetings should start on time so as not to punish the punctual. In future meetings, tardy types will more likely show up on time. Starting on time also shows you value participants’ time.

10. The leader’s introductory remarks outside the agenda items should only last a minute or two.


11. Encourage people to air their opinions, even if controversial.

True. On important contentious issues, consider bringing in an outside facilitator.

12.: Praise in Public, Criticize in Private


13. Even if an attendee is long-winded, the leader should rarely interrupt.

False. Long-winded or tangential statements are a major reason people hate meetings. You’ll be appreciated for tactfully cutting them off.

14. During meetings, it's often wise to have an activity that breaks the attendees up into groups of two or three.

True. That maximizes participation and alertness.

15. If the participants are starting to look bored, the chair should propose a 10-minute break.

False. Unless you've already been going for longer than 45 minutes, it's wiser to pick up the pace by standing up and speaking louder and more quickly to arouse the participants. Also choose lively participants to address the meeting,

16. Document the decisions made by the group, especially the person assigned to an action item and when and who will follow-up to be sure it’s done.


17. At the end of each meeting, review its effectiveness and suggest improvements for the next meeting.


At Intel, every new employee, from the most junior production worker to the highest ranking executive, is required to take the company's course on effective meetings. For years, the course was taught by CEO Andy Grove, who believed that good meetings were so important that it was worth his time to train all employees.

Is it worth your time to learn the above principles and perhaps train your co-workers on them?

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