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Answer by Court Showerman, controller at Quora:
The first thing I always do before a meeting is calculate the total cost of the meeting. If the meeting is an hour, add up the per-hour salary of everybody in attendance. Take the attendees’ annual salaries and divide by 2,080 to get to per-hour cost. So now let’s assume the total cost of the meeting is $500. It is my job as the meeting presenter to get $500 worth of value from that meeting.
This trick has a bunch of benefits. It forces you to keep the attendance list small because the higher the cost of the meeting, the harder it is to produce the value. But the biggest advantage is that it now makes you think before the meeting, “What needs to happen to produce $500 worth of value?” Then prepare your documents and run the meeting to make sure you achieve that goal.
Below is a process to follow to help in achieving a meeting’s goals:
Have somebody take notes. It normally shouldn’t be you because running a meeting properly takes too much attention to also take notes. But taking notes and running the meeting is better than not taking notes.
Always keep the goal in mind during the meeting and tell people the goal at the beginning.
Keep discussion on topic and moving toward the goal. Sometimes that means cutting people off, and sometimes it means specifically asking for input from someone who has not yet talked.
Keep people aware of the time and the goal. “OK. There are 30 minutes left, and our goal is to agree on a solution to problem X.”
Start to wrap up five minutes before the end of the meeting.
Wrap up should summarize the meeting by repeating the goal and hopefully the decision made (or progress made, project status, etc).
Identify next steps with owners and due dates of the next steps: “The next steps are X and Y. Jane has X, and it is due in one week, and John has Y, and it is due in two days.”
Organize the notes from the meeting. Give emphasis and highlights of the important parts. Actually take the time to organize and highlight the notes and send out to all participants.
Follow up on the next steps and keep the meeting attendants informed. “Jane and John have finished X and Y, and you can see the results here.”
Running a meeting properly is hard work and time-consuming, but if you make sure to at least get the same amount of value as cost from the meeting it will be successful. Also, if you calculate the cost of the meeting and you can’t think of how to get that much value, don’t have the meeting. Send an email or use a Google doc. If everybody followed this trick there would be fewer meetings, and only the necessary people would attend, which would save a lot of wasted time.
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