DIY Management: How to run a meeting

Everyone hates meetings, but it doesn't have to be that way

Credit: Yoichi Okamoto

Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert McNamara knew how to run a meeting 

Cameron Herold wrote Meetings Suck: Turning One of the Most Loathed Elements of Business Into One of the Most Valuable because most people have had no training at running them. The former COO of Vancouver-based 1-800-Got-Junk? now heads his COO Alliance mastermind group, splitting his time between Vancouver and Scottsdale, Arizona. “I’ve been coaching CEOs all over the world, and it was a common thing that I kept noticing, so I decided to codify how to actually run meetings,” he says

1. Don’t overinvite

 Think critically about who you want to ask to a meeting, and consider what else they could be working on instead. “Don’t just invite them for the sake of inviting them,” Herold explains. If your employees think they can better spend their time helping core areas of the business, let them skip the meeting.

2. Start on time

The only way to begin on schedule is to finish every meeting and phone call five minutes before the scheduled ending time. “That gives you time to walk down the hall, talk to your assistant, grab coffee, go to the bathroom and still show up on time for the next meeting,” Herold explains. It creates a built-in buffer between one call or meeting and the next one.  

3. Keep it short

Book half the time you think you need. “If I’m going to book a one-hour meeting, I’ll end up booking it for 30 minutes,” Herold notes. “If I’m thinking about booking a one-day meeting, I’ll book it for four hours.” Think about the agenda beforehand: what items you want to cover and how many minutes each will actually take. “That usually allows you to realize that you can book the meeting in a much shorter amount of time than you would have started with,” Herold advises.

4. Give everyone a chance to speak

Herold likes to give everyone a stack of Post-Its at the start of the meeting and ask them to write down one idea per note. Have the most junior or newest employee read out their ideas first, and leave the most senior, longest-standing or even whoever booked the meeting until the end. Herold points out that this gives more junior or quieter people a voice and takes far less time than letting a dominant staffer talk nonstop. “Often the most senior person doesn’t need to give their ideas at all because by the time it gets to them, they’ve already heard some great ones from the team,” he adds.

5. “No agenda, no attenda”

Let employees wait until they’ve seen the agenda before confirming whether they will attend. “That forces everyone to put an agenda in place to say, ‘Here’s what we’re covering, here’s the order we’re covering it, here’s how many minutes we’re spending on each item,’ and that allows people to opt out or opt into the meeting,” Herold observes. “Otherwise, why am I showing up in the first place?”