Peak SBC, LLC  



by Peg Kelley 2002-2003

Meetings can be like mythical vampires - sucking the life out of intelligent and creative people. And sucking the funds out of businesses. Unfortunately, there are too many of these meetings in business today.

A UCLA study said the "typical" meeting includes nine people.  What are the dollars associated with this? Suppose the average salary of meeting attendees is $40,000. Their hourly pay is about $20.00. Nine people for one hour costs $180.00. Not bad, right?

But consider the implications. People don't spend just one hour a year in meetings. A 3-M survey in 1998 reported people spend between one and 1.5 days per week in meetings. They also said 25% to 50% of those meetings was wasted. Conservatively, say 25% or two hours per week is wasted in meetings...times nine people. 18 hours a week. Times $20.00 an hour. 18 times 20 times 48 weeks = $17,280.00.

This is a conservative number. For only nine people. How many people are in your company? And how much time do they spend in meetings each week? These figures do not include the preparation time, fringe benefits, meeting and travel expense or, worst of all, opportunity cost. Really, what could these people have been doing for your business if they weren't tied up in ineffective meetings week after week?

So, what can we do about these vampire meetings?

First, look at your regularly scheduled meetings. What is the objective? Are they all really necessary? Can the agenda be covered via paper or email? Does everyone have to be there for every meeting?

Once you know this meeting must be held with these people, set a
meeting objective. Share it with people before and at the start of the meeting. Post it on a flipchart. Typical meeting objectives might be: Generate ideas to overcome our funding problem, Gain understanding of our new retirement plan, Get updates on three key projects, etc. The advantage of having a clear objective for your meeting is that people will police themselves and stay on-topic. And if they don't, you can point to the objective and say, "We have 30 minutes left and still have to achieve this goal for this meeting." Knowing and sharing the objective is a wonderful way to manage the group's energy and focus.

Another way to keep your meetings productive and efficient is to manage the people dynamics. One of the most common energy drains is when one person talks and talks and others never get to say a word. If possible, have a meeting facilitator whose job is, among other things, to make sure everyone gets appropriate airtime. When you do not have the luxury of a content-neutral facilitator, then the chairperson must manage the group. In this situation of one dominant personality, the chairperson can enforce brevity for all. Explain that you want everyone to give his or her thoughts in a sentence first and then elaborate on it. So, when that individual starts his/her comments with an unfocused beginning ("20 years ago, I worked at a company and there was this woman named Ann.."), you have the permission to step in and say, "Could you give us your point in a sentence first, Paul?" Being even-handed in implementing this approach is vital.

Another technique for this situation is to paraphrase the speaker's point. Interrupt when he or she takes a breath and say, "So you're saying that." and when they agree, you turn to the rest of the group and ask if anyone has anything to add or a different perspective. Thus you use the power of paraphrasing to help the speaker be concise while taking back the control of the group.

How you close a meeting is very important. Much like mythical vampires who fade away at sunrise, many meetings tend to splutter to a close when the allotted time runs out. We've all been in meetings where the chairperson is trying to set up another meeting while attendees bolt for the exits.

Energize participants by doing this, instead. Five minutes before the end, call a halt to discussion and revisit each of the agenda items and state what was decided. Then identify next steps with specifics. "Sandy, you will investigate prices for this, right? When can you have it done?" Then set the date for the next meeting.

By pointing out what has been accomplished, identifying next steps, and setting the next meeting, you will create a sense of momentum and people will feel the time spent was productive.

Like a wooden stake, these tips will slay pale, unproductive vampire meetings and replace them with lively, effective ones.  Attendees might actually look forward to your meetings! And you will, too.


Peg Kelley, MBA, has been a professional meeting facilitator for 25 years & is co-author of the booklet "39 Secrets for Effective and Enjoyable Meetings" available at her Facilitation Plus website at


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