Leading Productive Meetings

Ed BurghardA meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.

How many times have you attended a meeting and left after it was over disappointed because it was a waste of time?

Many people look at their daily calendar to find it is full of back-to-back meetings. The typical reaction is that it will be a “lost” day with minimal productivity.

As a leader, you often find yourself in a position where you have to rely on meetings in order to accomplish your goals. But, you don’t want your meetings to be a complete waste of your participant’s time. You want people leaving your meetings feeling great that they accomplished something important.

Here are 5 tips that I hope may help you lead even more effective and productive meetings.  These do not speak to meeting preparation, but rather to running the meeting.


Recognize meetings are simply an organizational choice to address a need. The first tip is to consciously decide if a meeting is truly needed or not. When you gather people in your organization, there is an opportunity cost. While the participants sit in your meeting, they are not working on other organizational priorities. Therefore, as a leader, you have an obligation to try and ensure that the time spent with you in a meeting offsets the collective lost progress made against other initiatives. One rule of thumb is to estimate the hourly wage of everybody you invite to your meeting and strive to provide value that exceeds the organizational cost. Sounds simple, but when you try it you may be surprised at how expensive meetings appear through that lens. Here is a handy tool I found to help you translate an annual salary into and hourly wage. As an example, based on the calculator, if you have 10 people in your meeting with an average annual salary of $100,000, your meeting costs your organization $480/hour just in wages. You need to be sure having a meeting makes sense. Are you delivering more than $480/hr in value?

Deal with tardiness. Tardiness reduces your ability to deliver value from a meeting. Always start on time! If participants unintentionally arrive late, invite them in and provide a succinct synopsis. Assign them a buddy to catch up during a break, and then check in at the break to ensure they have caught up to their (and your) satisfaction. If people intentionally arrive late, there need to be practical consequences. If you delay a meeting start to accommodate them, then you are simply encouraging the behavior. Tardiness makes your job of providing value that much harder. The more you create a reputation for not mollycoddling tardiness, the less often participants will be late to the meetings you lead.

Shut down disruptive talkers. It seems there is always somebody who decides to hijack you meeting to have a private discussion with another participant. This behavior also undermines your ability to deliver value, because two people, you determined were key to accomplishing the outcome goal for your meeting, are now disengaged. As a leader you need to productively deal with this situation. Make it a practice to walk around the meeting room when you lead the discussion rather than sit in a chair. Move close to the people who are engaged in a side bar conversation. Your physical proximity will bring their attention back to you and the meeting. If that doesn’t work, ask one of the disruptive people a direct question. If all else fails, request that the conversation be completed outside of the meeting room and let them know they are welcome to return when their conversation is completed. Allowing the behavior to continue jeopardizes your ability to achieve the meeting goal.

Deal directly with people who act as though they know it all. One way is to acknowledge their expertise and leverage them by proactively inviting additional perspective on a point you just made. Often, these people simply want recognition. You may also consider pairing them up with less experienced people in your meeting. That way, they can help others better understand and/or think through the information shared in your meeting. If they dominate conversations, purposefully seek out other viewpoints so everybody has an opportunity to participate. And, one thing I have found works well is to ask them to provide a final answer. That way others have a chance to share before the “know it all” speaks.

Don’t let your meeting be distracted with a debate. There is nothing wrong (in fact it is desired) with people sharing a different perspective. But, when the conversation devolves to a debate between you and one other person, you need to shut it down. Remember, you have other people participating in your meeting and their time is valuable. Offer to talk with the debater in depth over a break, or a cup of coffee after the meeting. Or, focus the debater on their goal for the debate. Often when they see that it isn’t productive they shut down the debate themselves. Always follow up with the debater to see what is required to provide them personal closure. You selected the person to be part of your meeting for a reason. Therefore it is important to ensure they are on-board with moving forward. One caution is to not confuse people processing out load with debate. Many people will ask a series of questions because they are trying to understand what you are saying. This discussion will feel different to you because you won’t feel threatened by it. In fact, it may be helpful because they are verbalizing questions the rest of the team likely has but simply has not asked.


Before you schedule a meeting, it is important to answer a simple question – Why am I calling this meeting? You need to decide if there isn’t a less expensive and perhaps more direct way to address your need.  I feel we often fall into holding meetings because we think everybody needs to be involved (or at least informed) in solving a problem.  Now that I am doing consulting work and invoice for my time, it has become acutely clear to me that meetings can be very costly.  I advise my clients to always have written outcome objectives for every meeting I am asked to attend so I can be sure they will get full value from my being there.  I think the same analysis needs to be done regardless if the cost is out of pocket or an overhead expense.  In my opinion, we are all wasting too much time in attending meetings that accomplish very little, and could likely been handled with a summary report, written recommendation or a simple phone call.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you have any tips for managing meetings (humorous would be great) you’d be willing to share as a comment to this post? Here are two links to an additional resource on the subject –   1) https://www.spica.com/blog/how-to-run-a-meeting  2) https://www.wikijob.co.uk/content/interview-advice/competencies/soft-skills

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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