Youíve probably heard the adage, "Thereís nothing certain in life, except
death, taxes and meetings." If you look at the statistics, the average time
spent in meetings is staggering:
||Most business people spend approximately
25 percent of their time in meetings.
||Middle managers often spend at least
two days out of every week in meetings.
||Itís not unusual for executives to
be in meetings for up to a whopping four days a week!
we meet so often, weíre all conscious of scheduling meetings only when necessary
and ensuring that a well-developed agenda keeps the meeting on time and on track.
But what else can you do to run an effective meeting? When a meeting seems to
be dragging on for an eternity and weary attendees are slumped in their seats,
you may be tempted to bar the door and declare, "Nobody leaves until weíre
finished here." Obviously, this does not make for an effective meeting.
When planning the agenda, consider whether splitting the meeting into two shorter
meetings would be more appropriate than one long meeting. If it is important
to keep the meeting to a single session, scheduling breaks is vital to keeping
participants focused, fresh and productive.
Studies have shown that the average person can pay attention in a meeting for
approximately 20 minutes before becoming fidgety, starting to daydream or working
other projects. At this point, even a change in speakers or mediums (PowerPoint
presentation to round-table discussion) is enough to refocus participants. After
90 minutes in a meeting, youíll start to notice a marked deterioration in attention
The maximum time spent in a meeting without a break should never exceed an
hour and a half. In fact, it is counterproductive to continue on after this
point without allowing for a brief 10- to 15-minute break. You canít expect
riveting ideas or thoughtful comments from people who may be seriously contemplating
the negative effects of too much coffee and bran muffins instead of paying attention!
Breaks do more than add precious minutes to your meeting agenda. They can actually
produce a more effective meeting:
People Can Discuss Matters Informally in Smaller Groups
Often, in a larger group setting, people may have questions or comments
that are not directly related to everyone or the objective of the meeting, but
are still valuable. At break time, participants can discuss their questions
or comments with each other without interrupting a meeting with side whispers
and note writing.
The Chairperson Can Refocus the Meeting and Prevent
As a general rule, attendees are most receptive and participatory at the
beginning of a meeting. As the meeting wears on, other unrelated or partially
relevant issues arise and off-topic conversation ensues. A break can provide
the respite a chairperson may need to bring the meeting back to order and remind
participants of the importance of remaining on time and on schedule.
Exhaustion, Irritability and Attention
Loss are Diminished
Attendees need to be able to refresh themselves to remain
productive. Providing participants with the opportunity to
get a beverage or light snack, use the facilities or return
a quick phone call will ensure a more effective meeting. Itís
impossible to concentrate on the monthly sales presentation
when youíre on the verge of passing out from low blood-sugar
dizziness. Itís also distracting for everyone when people
are wandering in and out of the meeting room because there
are no scheduled breaks.
Breaks are an important part of a focused, effective meeting that is expected
to run over 90 minutes long. Itís not worth trying to cut corners and abolish
breaks to save time, unless you want a room full of cranky, squirming, non-productive
participants. Here are a few other tips to help your meeting breaks flow smoothly: