VAMPIRE MEETINGS AND
HOW TO SLAY THEM
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
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