How to make a meeting less like a funeral.

Funerals are rituals, gatherings of community members to come together, share, commemorate and connect. They are an important human universal and an essential tradition.

Meetings, on the other hand, are not a rite of passage. The most effective meetings are planned with action-based objectives; and measurable outcomes.

Yet, many meetings lack outcomes. Plenty are still scheduled routinely. Some last for hours at time. And lots of meetings can be a bit more sombre than necessary. How can we change this? Perhaps by looking at the big picture.

Meetings, unlike funerals, are about the future. The most successful meetings involve predetermined targets, strict guest lists, timely follow-up, and yes, even a bit of neuroscience.


Coordinate, don’t commemorate.

Identify an objective. 50% of an effective meeting takes place before it starts. One thing that sets you apart from a funeral planner- ask yourself; what am I hoping to accomplish?

Certain meetings are about status updates that are just most appropriate face to face. Some require direct problem solving. Some involve key decision making about the direction of the organisation. Some involve strengthening the team itself, especially when there are setbacks. There are good reasons to call a meeting and it’s essential to name it, so that you can achieve the outcome.


Have vigilant guest lists.

Guest lists are limited at successful meetings. People who can add value are the ones who can best create solutions to challenges, who have the talent and experience to provide value to the meeting’s objective, or who need to hear something in person. This is no time for an open-door policy.



Successful meetings, unlike funerals, are known for their brevity. Meetings are not the time for reflection. Parkinson’s Law is key here; “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ (Parkinson, The Economist, 1955).

Most people have an attention span of between 10-18 minutes (inspiration for the 18 minute Ted Talk.) Physiologically, glucose, oxygen and blood flow is needed for new information, and that’s the window we are given.


Have a 2-hour follow-up

Don’t wait around, don’t have tea at a relative’s, don’t charge off on another office-related crusade. The second most important part of the meeting begins when the meeting ends. Here’s what to do.

Get a memo out within two hours highlighting action points and those responsible for creating outcomes. This will speak to your intermediate-term memory, which lasts 2-3 hours. Your brain is actually creating proteins based on this process- so the time window is essential.

Sending a memo within 2 hours with specific action points and individuals responsible will reinforce the meeting material and further anchor it into the memory of your staff. If they can’t remember the meeting, then it’s essentially useless. Part of their task should be responding to this memo confirming their action point and deadline. This translates the new material gleaned from the meeting and transcribes it into their memory. It adds clarity and purpose with a neat deadline. It’s essentially your best shot at an effective outcome.

Meetings have clear purpose and direction. They are well prepped, followed up on within 2 hours, and selectively attended for a brief, but productive interval that no one will shed tears over.


This article was written by Melissa Porter from One World Rental


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