How to Run a Thirty Minute Meeting

In the past few years, I have seen a lot of articles that suggest business meetings should be limited to just 30 minutes. After spending years in meetings lasting up to four hours, the 30-minute meeting sounds like a dream come true.

Unfortunately, it can be easier said that done, especially when you have a client or colleague who wants to spend 20-40 minutes of every meeting telling you about a kid’s soccer game, a newfound interest in home-brewing, or any other non-business related sidebar.

Of course, it is a good idea to build a strong relationship with colleagues and clients, and that can involve small talk, but sometimes it is important to save those conversations for holiday parties and happy hour. When it is time to get down to business, a shorter meeting is not only timesaving but often more effective and focused. Here are a few tips on how to master the art of the 30-minute meeting:

  1. Establish hard rules about the beginning and ending time of the meeting.  If you are dealing with someone who tends to go over time, let him know that you have another appointment soon after your meeting and that it is important for you to get started on time so that you can give that person your full attention. In addition, show the same respect for your colleague or client, and be on time.
  2. Create a clear agenda and email it ahead of time to everyone attending the meeting.  Be sure to make sure all topics can be covered in a short amount of time, and set clear goals for what you would like to achieve during the meeting. If you are meeting with a client, ask the client to write down questions and send them to you before the meeting so you can have answers ready.
  3. Before the meeting begins: Remind attendees that you have a time limit and request that everyone stick to the agenda. Then, remove distractions.  Turn off your ringer, put a do not disturb sign on the door, and close out your email inbox. It’s just thirty minutes; interruptions can wait.
  4. During the meeting: Stick to the agenda and discuss topics in an orderly fashion. Avoid tangents and establish action items for any goals that cannot be achieved during the meeting. Assign action items to each person in the meeting, and create a clear timeline for when these action items should be completed.
  5. At the end of the meeting: Pay attention to your clock. Once you have just 5 minutes left in the meeting, politely wrap up the meeting by scheduling time for a follow up and briefly summarizing action items.
  6. Immediately after the meeting: Send a quick email to everyone who attended summarizing action items, deadlines and the follow up.
  7. (Optional) Still interested in hearing about that soccer game or home brew? Invite you colleague to join you for happy hour, host a client appreciation dinner, or build some free time into your monthly status update calls.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deepblue66/2464797284/)