Did you know your meetings don’t need to be scheduled for or last a full hour? I kid you not.
Follow this simple process for determining the length.
That’s how long your meeting should last. Simple.
It’s at this point most people hedge. Their best estimate is 43 minutes, so they give themselves a little padding, in case they were off on their estimates, and round up to the nearest hour or half-hour.
Don’t hedge. If you believe the meeting is going to take 43 minutes, plan it for that long. If you must round up, I’ll cut you a break if you use five-minute increments.
One justification I hear for padding is the principle of under promise and over deliver. The argument goes that nobody will be mad about a meeting that ends early.
By setting expectations low (that is, the meeting is going to take a long time), you can easily exceed those expectations and will look good. If you want to be about smoke and mirrors, that strategy may well work. If you want to be the real deal, don’t pad.
The problem with significant padding is that you and the attendees will relax. After all, time isn’t an issue. Together you will fill the time you allot for the meeting. In most meetings, feeling slightly rushed is a good thing. It keeps the energy levels high and encourages people to stay focused on the task at hand.
I’ve learned this principle through more than 19 years of delivering workshops for one of my clients. The workshops are all a fixed time. They each run between one and three hours. The sessions have been developed by someone other than me.
When I prepare, I immediately have a sense for whether the scheduled time is too much, too little, or just right. There are a couple of workshops that don’t have nearly enough content to fill the time, and I worry that people expect the full amount of scheduled time.
It’s in these workshops that I run into a time problem. And it’s not the one I was worried about. Rather, I often find myself short on time and struggle to cover all the material. How could this be? It’s because I know I have plenty of time and tell stories that need not be told. I let discussions go on longer than necessary. I use the time, because it’s there for me to use.
Shorter is better
Shorter meetings are usually preferred over longer ones. Imagine you’ve received two meeting invitations that are both competing for the same time slot in your schedule. The first one is a half-day session that has a stated purpose to review the department’s progress on key quality initiatives.The second meeting is scheduled for 45 minutes, and the purpose is to prioritize a list of concerns expressed by employees in our last engagement survey. Which session do you think will be a better use of your time?
Some meetings have to be long. If people are flying or driving to get to your meeting, it doesn’t make sense to have them repeat that travel more times than necessary. Luckily, most meetings don’t require travel. It’s just you and some people from down the hall or perhaps another floor.
What can you do without a break?
The way to keep a meeting short is to limit it to the maximum amount of time the group can stay in a room without taking a break.
In the morning, when people are fresh, that max number is two hours. And two hours is a real push. If I want them to stay completely engaged, the number is probably closer to 90 minutes.
After lunch, I have found you are not going to keep people’s attention past one hour. The effects from lunch make people tired. And the 20-ounce soda they drank will require a trip to the restroom.
It’s easy to argue that you could just give them a break and keep trudging on. If I have a need for a longer meeting, then that’s what I’ll do. But if I don’t need a longer meeting, then I’ll keep it short and focused. I tackle additional needs in a future meeting.
The right length
So how long should the perfect meeting take? Not a minute more than necessary.
Most meetings can be tightened up considerably.