#030: 9 Rules for Leading More Productive Meetings [Podcast]

I have attended hundreds of meetings—maybe a few thousand—and led a few hundred, too. Often, meetings seem like a waste of time.

Group of People in a Serious Meeting from Above - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/francisblack, Image #7198789

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/francisblack

There have been some notable exceptions, and in this episode I talk about what made these meetings different.

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The good news is that most meetings can be improved. Here is my list of nine rules for leading more productive meetings.

  1. Rule 1: Be fully engaged.
  2. Rule 2: Establish hard edges.
  3. Rule 3: Create a written agenda.
  4. Rule 4: State the desired outcome.
  5. Rule 5: Lead the conversation.
  6. Rule 6: Review the minutes and action items.
  7. Rule 7: Take written minutes.
  8. Rule 8: Clarify action items.
    • Start each action item with a verb.
    • Specify the deliverable.
    • Assign a single owner to each action.
    • Agree on a due date.
  9. Rule 9: Determine the next meeting date.

Look, improving the quality of meetings takes work. Meetings don’t get better or more productive on their own. Every once in a while we need to step back from the meeting itself and ask, “How can we make our time together more productive?”

We need to be honest. Meetings consume a lot of resources. The more efficient they are, the better the return on our investment.

Listener Questions

  1. Chris Pilon asked, “How can I make conference calls with my team more productive?”
  2. Eric Rheam, “How do I get out of meetings I should not attend?”
  3. Jayson Feltner, “What kind of system do you use for note-taking in meetings?”
  4. John Wilkerson, “What do you do when you are scheduled at the end of a meeting and nothing before really applies?”
  5. Ryan Parker, “How do I hear people but keep the meeting from turning into one long gripe session?”
  6. Scott Reynolds, “How do you take good meetings notes? and How do you process those notes when you get back to your desk?”
  7. Chris Jeub asked, “Is there any progress on your WordPress theme?”

Special Announcements

  1. I created My Tools page in response to the numerous questions I get every week about what hardware, software, and other tools I use to do specific tasks. It is a comprehensive resource page with links to all my tools. If nothing else, it might just stimulate your thinking process.
  2. My next podcast will be on the topic of “My Advice to Beginning Bloggers.” If you have a question about this topic—and want a chance to get on the show—leave me a voicemail message. This is a terrific way to cross-promote YOUR blog or website, because I will link to it, just like I did with the callers in this episode.

Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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Question: What meeting tips do you have to offer that I haven’t covered? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.wevival.com/ Jason Stambaugh

    Great podcast! Generally speaking – I hate meetings. They are abused in almost every organization. Hard edges and agendas with defined outcomes are critical. I’m currently trying to follow the protocol contained in the “Modern Meeting Standard”. 

  • Don

    I think you’ve missed one of the most important – start and end on time.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I actually covered this at some length in Rule #2: Establish hard edges.

      • Donsriddell

        Sorry, didn’t hear the podcast – only read the article.

  • Larry Pontious

    I work for a pretty small company and many times have to take my own meeting notes.  One thing I’ve learned is to schedule extra time after each call. (20-30 minutes for a one hour call.)  Then as soon as the call is over, I recap my notes, make sure any action items are clearly stated (who/what/when) and distribute them to everyone on the call.  I never get myself in a position where I do back-to-back calls with no break inbetween.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I learned this from a counselor. His appoints began on the hour, but they ended at 50 minutes, so he could process his notes before the next appointment.

  • Robert Neff

    For most of my weekly Staff meetings, nobody, with the exception of handicapped, sat.  This eliminated the,”What should really go in space 8 on form XYZ” discussions.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      That’s actually a great strategy. I have done standing meetings too. They force brevity.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      That re-defines “standing meetings”!  And it makes a lot of sense in the right context.  

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    In academia meetings are often useless fluff made to fill up time.  For economic reasons we cut our convocation down from five days of meetings to one day.  Nobody misses the extra meetings.  I’m a department head and keep meetings brief concise and short.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

    I have a tangential question about meetings: 

    “Mr or Ms So-and-So is in a meeting right now” is probably the most common and overused excuse to blow people off, to a point where these days being told that someone is “in a meeting,” I suppose, causes most people to suspect that they’re being lied to. 

    So if you’re REALLY in a meeting, how to communicate this to others without giving them the impression that you simply don’t want to deal with them at the moment? 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      This is a great question. I think the key is to establish a reputation for telling the truth and for following up with people after the meeting. If you do this, people will know (or eventually learn) that when you say you are in a meeting, you are. Thanks.

    • Jim Martin

      This is an excellent question.  This particular line has been used so much to deflect calls that many people doubt its truthfulness.  So you make a good point.  How do you communicate that you really are in a meeting?

      I like Michael’s answer.  Sometimes it is helpful if the one answering the phone can give an approximate time to expect a return call.  “He is in a meeting this morning but should be able to return you call right after lunch.”

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

        If I’m ever in a meeting, I’ll instruct my staff to tell all callers and visitors whatever they want EXCEPT that I’m in a meeting. They can tell them I was abducted by aliens, for all I care, as long as they don’t use the word “meeting.”

  • Canderson
    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      That would be a great addition!

      Care to elaborate? When have you experienced this? What do you do to keep it from happening? Thanks.

      • Canderson

        You know, I’d like to believe that most meeting hijcak situations are not pre-mediatated. They’re simply the result of poorly defined boundaries, a lenient culture with nice people, and an excitable personality or two.

        I suggest, in addition to your list, leave meetings promptly (but politely) at the end of the scheduled time. Also, never auto schedule a meeting for an hour or for 30 minutes (those things are habits of culture). Always include the agenda and objective of the meeting (action, decision, information) in the invitation.Ultimately, the best thing to do in the event of an unfortunate meeting hijack is speak up and mention to the group that whatever new idea may warrant a meeting another time but the group needs to meet the objective under the deadline of the meeting. Any other ideas from experience out there? If all else fails, see Jayson’s advice below…

        • http://www.facebook.com/alicia.bettendorf Alicia Bettendorf

          When I experience my meetings being hijacked it’s “discussion” type meetings. I’m a Business Analyst at a software company and my job is to create requirements for financial software. What the software should do, how the users will interact, and what rules does the software needs to follow. After the requirements are written, we have a “Requirements Review Meeting” with the development team. These review meeting are where development provides feedback and input on the requirements. and are essential to the process. Sometimes as BA’s with business backgrounds we “dream up” requirements that are not “technically feasible”. We have a few type A developers and development managers who tend to lead the discussion down technical paths outside the scope of the meeting. For example, they will start talking about implementation strategies, who will work on the implementation, the time required to implement, etc. While relevant to the big picture, the purpose of the meeting is to discuss requirements, not plan the implementation.

          When leading, I try to get back on track by simply stating one of two things (when I can get a word in): 1) “I see we have some implementation details to work out, if needed we can schedule time to discuss that later. For now let’s look at the next requirement.” Or 2) “I see we have some more details to work out in regards to this requirements. Let me make a note that it is an open question (usually silence while I make the note). Next up is requirement Y.”

          The great thing about this methods is about 95% of the time another meeting is not required. The development team works it out the technical issues later without a meeting or my involvement! Open questions are usually handled via IM or email after people have time to process the discussion.

    • http://www.jaysonfeltner.com/ Jayson Feltner

      I know how you feel.  I happen to know two people who, if in the same meeting, will drag the meeting out so long that people have actually fallen asleep!  One of them was the boss so no one could stop it from happening.  I began structuring meetings so these two were no longer in the same meeting.  We’re now much more efficient and effective with our meetings.

      • Canderson

        What an awkward situation when the boss is the meeting hijacker! If the culture of the org. or the personal relationship with the boss doesn’t allow a difficult conversation about meeting habits, reconsider the meeting participant list. I think that’s good advice. Cheers.

  • http://www.jaysonfeltner.com/ Jayson Feltner

    Thanks so much for taking my question Michael.  Your answer was helpful but you forgot the link in the resources.  I found it and thought I’d share it.


    I actually began using this in my meetings this morning using my new Moleskine.  I then reviewed my notes and placed the action items into Nozbe.  Thanks for all your help!  You insight and experience in leadership is helping me to become a better leader and helping my organization grow.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jayson. I knew I had forgotten something! I have now added it to the resources. Thanks again.

  • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

    Hey Rob, 
    I just looked up “mind mapping”.  It looks very interesting.  Does it only work with creative thinkers in the room, or can linear thinkers track with it, too? 

    • http://www.robstill.com Rob Still

       Sure, I think mind maps help facilitate group decision making when multiple variables are involved. You get all the puzzle pieces on the table.

      • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

        Very cool.  Thanks!

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    These are great tips and another good podcast. Too many times I’ve almost fallen asleep in meetings :)

  • Jim Martin

    Michael, this is a great podcast!  So glad you addressed this.  Meetings that are lead poorly can be such an energy drainer!  In fact, they exhaust the whole group.

    Thanks for the specific suggestions.  These are very helpful.  I especially appreciate rule #2.

  • http://www.livebeyondawesome.com/ Jen McDonough “The Iron Jen”

    Going to love sharing this podcast as MANY will find it useful.

  • Don Jones

    Excellent podcast, Thanks! A couple of questions, please: 1) You mention the idea of being able to answer the question, “what is the intended outcome of this meeting?” In our  board meeting, we have quite a number of things on the agenda so that I am not sure how to make this fit or what we should be looking for giving that criteria. Most of the meeting I am involved in, have multiple items on the agenda. 2) What are some techniques of helping getting other input when there is a predominant personality monopolizing the discussion. I know you mentioned going to the individual afterwards in the podcast, but can this be done courteously in a meeting when it crops up so as to be able to salvage it then. What are some suggestions if the person is not willing to see his monopolization?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      When I talk about the outcome, I am asking how do you want people to leave? For example, with a board meeting. “I want them to leave feeling great about our future and confident in our management team.” Or ”Clear about our needs and committed to giving us the resources to achieve our mission.”
      With regard to a person monopolizing the meeting, I would begin my framing what you want to accomplish. “Thanks for coming to today’s meeting. It is important that we hear from everyone. So, please forgive me if I cut you off if you start monopolizing the conversation or draw you out if you are not saying anything.” This sets the stage.
      Sometimes you have to be borderline rude with some people. “Tom, let me just interrupt you for a second. Before you make your next point, let’s see if anyone else would like to comment on this first.”
      Don’t be afraid to lead. Remember, it’s an art not a science.

  • http://strategexe.com Adam Robinson, MBA

    Another great post Michael. Sharing this post with everyone on my team.

  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    I learned a lot from this podcast. 
    Set times and having a clear agenda.
    Thank you Michael.

    K, bye

  • Jon Patz

    Thank you for covering this topic on leading productive meetings. Your thoughts and ideas are practical and I appreciate your outline and 9 points. Brilliant!
    Jon Patz

  • http://twitter.com/FerdivdB Ferdi van den Bergh

    one of the things i started noticing (and then started trying to stop) is people bringing too many personal discussions to the table. Things that 2 people can (and should) discuss together should not be brought to a meeting with 8 people. 

    Are there any tips on setting a standard for this? it should be common sense…but common sense is not so common…

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  • Chance Smith

    Sticking to the agenda is one of the hardest things for me to do. I don’t think I form a hard guideline to use in the meeting. I just brush down some topics and let it fly from there.

    I love details and that gets the best of the meetings.

    Thanks Michael!

  • Prhunt1

    I enjoyed this podcast and have a question. When taking minutes for meetings that follow Robert’s rules is it necesary to capture the seconding person’s name as well as the results of each vote or just the decisions and action items

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Generally speaking, yes. It really depends on the legal status of your entity. If in doubt, check with your attorney. Thanks.

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  • http://twitter.com/oleiah leiah

    I disagree with your response to the listener question about video conferencing when you said, “I would stick to just a phone conference” instead of adding video.

    In the company I work for, we’re spread out across 3 states. There have been times when we simply do a phone conference, which is fine for 3 or less people. But when you try to add in more people, it gets hectic and stressful (at least to me) because you can’t tell who is about to talk, or who is talking. So you end up talking over each other all the time and asking, “who is talking now?”

    I much prefer a video conference just so I can see who is about to start talking. I’ve found that in phone calls with more than 2 people, I tend to stay very quiet so I don’t talk over anyone, which leads to a one-sided discussion.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      That’s a fair point. Thanks for making it.

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  • http://www.jeremybinns.com/ Jeremy Binns

    As usual, great post and resources!  Thank you!

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