Partners for Advancing Agriculture ®

Make Internal Meetings More Productive and Shorter

Fall 2013

“Ask your team to identify their biggest productivity challenges and they will undoubtedly point to their internal meeting schedule as a “biggy.” Here’s one novel idea along with a few simple practices that can make internal meetings much more productive AND shorter.” – The Context Network Principal, Mike J. Borel

Eliminate the presentation. Ask that materials that would typically have been presented, be sent out to participants at least 24 hours in advance so people can familiarize themselves with the content.

Just because the material has been sent doesn’t mean it will be read. Begin each meeting by providing attendees 5-10 minutes to read through the deck. If people have already read it, they can refresh their memory, identify areas they’d like to go deeper on, or just catch up on email.

After the first few times you kick off a meeting with silence, it won’t be awkward – it will be welcome. This is particularly true when meetings end early and participants agree it was time well spent. In this format, a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour is often actually complete in 20-30 minutes.

Remember, there is no presentation! Once the reading is completed, it’s time to open it up for discussion. Stay vigilant on this point as most people who prepared the materials will reflexively begin presenting. If you are concerned about appearing insensitive, constructively remind the group this is a new practice that will benefit all meeting attendees, including the artist formerly known as “The Presenter.”


With the presentation eliminated, the meeting can be exclusively focused on generating a valuable discourse: providing shared context, diving deeper on particularly cogent data and insights, and having a meaningful debate. The need for clarifying questions will be kept to a minimum with well-prepared material simply and intuitively articulated. In addition to “eliminating presentations in favor of discussions,” the following are highly valuable practices that greatly contribute to running effective meetings:

  1. Define, state and review the objective of the meeting. This can prove invaluable, ensuring everyone is aligned and focused on keeping the meeting on point. Consider including the meeting objective on the cover sheet.
  2. Identify who is leading the meeting. Each meeting needs one leader whose primary roles are to keep the conversation relevant and to see that no one person ends up dominating the discussion. Adjunct discussions that arise during the course of the meeting will be taken offline.
  3. Assign someone to take notes. Choose someone well versed in the meeting’s objectives, who has a clear understanding of context, and can capture the most salient points. This avoids the classic multiple people recalling one event in multiple ways — and also creates a plan of record for what was discussed and agreed to. This can also be particularly valuable for invitees who were absent.
  4. Summarize key action items, deliverables, and accountability. Summaries usually are the first thing to suffer if the meeting runs long and people start running off to their next scheduled event. However, it’s arguably the single most important thing you’ll do at the meeting (and is ostensibly the reason for the meeting to begin with). Have the discipline to ensure attendees remain engaged while next steps are being discussed and assigned.
  5. Ask what you can do better. Gather feedback at the end of meetings. It takes very little time. Ask whether or not the attendees found it valuable and what could be done to improve it in the future. There is no better way to ensure the meeting is necessary and effective. If it’s not, either change the objective and/or format, or take it off the calendar.

Context facilitates a great number of meetings, and participates in many client meetings. We hope you find these suggestions valuable and give them a try.

(This article includes portions adapted from a LinkedIn article I found particularly interesting an “on point.”) MJB