Are Rampant and Unproductive Meetings Killing Your Company’s Bottom Line?

 7 Tips to Decrease “Meeting Waste”          Meetings image final

Do you ever feel as though you’re on the meeting hamster wheel?  Well, you’re not alone.  According to a joint research study by Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics, executives typically spend more than 18 hours per week in meetings – that’s about a third of their work time.

Not only is the number of meetings being held increasing from past years, many meetings are deemed by participants as unnecessary and not productive at all.   A 2012 Salary.com survey found that “too many meetings” was the #1 complaint as the biggest time-waster in the office, up from #3 in 2008.

Moreover, a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics discovered that unnecessary meetings cost U.S. businesses approximately $37 billion each year.  Most leaders don’t even know the cost of their meeting waste.

Meeting costs take into account the salaries of those involved adding in their benefits [healthcare, 401(k), etc.] in addition to meeting room, equipment and furniture costs.  Then add the price for lost productivity and meeting costs can soar.  A one hour meeting with six high-level attendees could easily cost upwards of $2,000.  If you’d like to check your company’s meeting cost, there’s a great meeting-time calculator available that shows the cost of every minute that goes by in your meeting (http://www.bringtim.com/meeting-cost-calculator.html).

On the plus side, meetings serve many purposes including keeping staff informed, understanding client’s goals more clearly as well as facilitating collaboration and problem-solving. You shouldn’t declare a moratorium on meetings, but you should encourage your staff to take some necessary steps to ensure that their meetings are efficient and productive:

  1. Ask yourself, “Is a meeting really necessary?” – Oftentimes, people are on auto pilot that defaults to mindlessly scheduling a meeting.  Determine what you need to accomplish and assess if there are more effective ways to communicate or collaborate such as face-to-face meetings or group emails.
  2. Invite only the necessary participants – During my agency life, it wasn’t unusual to have more than eight people in a meetings, sometimes 3 people from one department.  I realize that sometimes office politics and egos prevent us from limiting invitees, but whenever possible, make sure there isn’t redundancy on your list.
  3. Be prepared – Don’t be that annoying colleague who pulls together a rushed meeting just because she had a call five minutes ago with a client who only asked a hypothetical question.  This will happen, but a meeting is more effective when you are able to provide the answers to anticipated questions from participants.
  4. Create an agenda – Meetings do run much more smoothly when participants are informed of the sequence of discussion topics.  Having an agenda also helps reign in everyone when a topic goes off tangent.  Additionally, it lends more credibility to the meeting organizer who is perceived as being on the ball and efficient.
  5. Be the master of your meeting – As the organizer, you need to take the reins and facilitate the meeting with aplomb.  Be in control of your meeting so that you keep the group on task and on time.  If a key person is late, I don’t like to waste everyone else’s precious time waiting 15 minutes for one continuously tardy peer. Let everyone have a turn at speaking and be respectful of participants’ time – watch the clock and don’t go over the meeting’s scheduled time.
  6. Always end the meeting with action steps – The takeaway from the meeting should be a consensus on project direction as well as making sure everyone understands their roles and applicable next steps.  You can also plan your next meeting while you have everyone in the room.
  7. Write a meeting recap – I know it seems like more work and a bit of overkill, but it truly saves you time and money in the long run when you provide a quick email recap as to what occurred in the meeting and lay out the next steps and roles of everyone who attended.  This helps eliminate misunderstandings and is beneficial for an attendee who had to pull out of the meeting at the last minute.

Getting in the habit of enlisting your staff to follow these steps before sending out that meeting invite will help you whittle down the financial drain of meetings, and more importantly, help to ensure that meetings are run efficiently and effectively in order to achieve the goal(s) at hand.

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5 Components of a Dull Presentation

I have sat through many presentations in my life, both at work and outside of the office, and there’s nothing worse than a boring one that doesn’t engage the audience.   A friend in my French club still chuckles when he remembers us siting together listening to a lecture given by a professor from an esteemed French university on a topic that I can’t even remember.   The only thing I do remember is the monotone voice of the goldfishspeaker (think of Ben Stein’s character in “Ferris Beuhller’s Day Off,” but with a “vehr-ee” French accent) droning on for two hours with what seemed like one thousand slides of the same stone building.  About an hour into it, my friend leaned over and asked me what I thought.  “I’d rather gnaw my arm off than listen to this right now,” I replied.  And I meant it.

It doesn’t matter what field you’re in – nearly every vocation requires that you put together a presentation at some point.  Today’s universal presentation tool seems to be Power Point, though Prezi is gaining strength as a nice alternative, but it can be time-consuming and costly (in terms of resources) to create.

It still always astounds me that, in this day and age of competing distractions and vying for those precious few minutes of a prospect’s time, there are still presenters who flub their presentations – usually by making them too long and by not dynamically presenting the information.

What’s worse is that the attention span of the average human adult has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2012.  (source:  http://statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/ ).  Even more disturbing is that goldfish have attention spans of 9 seconds – that’s one second longer than people!!  More so than ever, presentations have to be brief but engaging.

But, if you enjoy making complete strangers nod off and drool, doing these things will absolutely guarantee that you will bore your audience to tears and in doing so, jeopardize the desired outcome of your presentation:

  1. Including too much content – The mantra of presentations is not “more is better.”  It’s always a real challenge not to overload your presentation with lots of information and corresponding slides. I know you have a lot of points to get across, but you need to really create a succinct presentation that is tight and to the point.  I typically go back at least three times to edit out any redundant info as well as to streamline slides.  Let’s face it, do you enjoy sitting through a 70-slide Power Point presentation?  If not, why would your audience?
  2. Being too copy-heavy  – Not only do you have too much content, but the content you do have is all text with no visuals to break up the monotony.  It’s beneficial to pepper your presentation with some relevant visuals or videos; perhaps a chart or images that make sense in order to help you drive your point home.  And, if you don’t have any relevant visuals, just intermittently stick in some pictures of cute baby animals such as puppies or bunnies.  How can people not like that?
  3. Reading entirely off of the slides – If you are just going to read the slides, then you don’t even need to even be there  –  just run the presentation with a cardboard cut-out of yourself and have the audience read it themselves.  Remember that the slides are there merely as a guide and road map to help you verbalize and expound upon the key information you want to convey.  Don’t rely on your slides to present (what if the computer or AV system was down).
  4. Not practicing beforehand  – I’ve seen and experienced this firsthand myself.  I realize it’s difficult since many times, we actually finish the presentation at the eleventh hour and find ourselves with no time to practice.  Additionally, some folks think that because they wrote the presentation, that they know it and needn’t practice.  Not so.  Practice is especially crucial when multiple people are presenting.
  5. Ignoring the human factor To me, this is the most important point of all. Most of the time, such as in new business situations, the reason you are presenting in person is for your prospect to test the chemistry between potential team members.  A presentation with excellent content is only as good as the person(s) presenting it.  That means looking at audience members as you speak as well as reading non-verbal cues from them to see if you are going to fast or confusing them.  Engage your audience – don’t just talk at them.

While these tips seem to be logical and innate, we’ve all experienced sitting through a presentation that includes one or more of these no-no’s.  Don’t be that person – the one who makes the audience so disengaged that they begin seeking refuge by gazing out the window or checking their emails; or worse yet, begin gnawing at their arms.  And, if the goldfish in the room is floating at the top of the bowl, you know you really bombed.

When Cancer Hits the Workplace

Yesterday my friend entered hospice.  He has braveImagely battled lung cancer for the past two years.  I’ve known him for nearly 20 years – we met through his sister, who is a very close friend of mine.

Honestly, it was with dread yesterday afternoon that I entered the front lobby of the hospice, which is situated on Lake Erie and offers a beautiful view and a certain calmness that the lake exudes.  My friend was having some immediate stomach issues, but otherwise was being a real trooper.  We even took a walk to the meditation room which overlooks the lake. 

We talked about how lovely the crocheted blankets were that my friend was given after he became cold. These blankets are lovingly crocheted by volunteers, and my friend was very touched that folks can be so generous with their time and efforts for complete strangers. 

That got us to talking about how cancer can be a defining moment for friendships or any type of relationship including work relationships.  I am a cancer survivor, and while I experienced a tremendous outpouring of love and support from friends and colleagues, others – afraid of their own mortality and not clearly recognizing that someone else’s cancer makes them uncomfortable – pulled back.  I noticed who they were and I cannot say it did not greatly disappoint me.  However, those who rallied around me were greater than those who didn’t, and I thrived with their encouragement and support.

My colleagues at the PR agency I worked at were so supportive.  I chose to work during my six months of chemo and radiation, and our management team provided me with the flexibility I needed.  I worked when I could and when I couldn’t, I rested. 

I chose to work because I believed it provided me with a distraction that would help me cope better with my illness.  It did.  I know that not everyone can or wants to work during treatment, but it helped me keep a routine and not feel “sick.” However, I was very nervous of letting my peers down and not being able to keep up my usual pace.

My staff and colleagues picked up the slack for me and that meant more than I could ever express.  While a few people actually were resentful of having more work on their plates, the majority was more than willing to pitch in.  My boss and a number of colleagues came to visit me during chemo sessions while another colleague provided me with nutritional supplements and meditation books.  Others sent flowers, balloons and cards with messages of encouragement.  One peer made a client trip to Arizona in my place since I was unable to travel. This outpouring of kindness and support made me so happy and proud to work where I did. 

I realize there can be awkwardness to being around and communicating with someone with cancer.  Believe it or not, some people wouldn’t ever make eye contact with me and I felt at times like a leper. I get it. People worry they will say the wrong things.  I’m sure I have.  But to me, it mattered less when they did say the wrong thing and more that they were willing to put aside their own anxieties and say anything at all to me.

It is difficult today to find someone whose life hasn’t been touched in some way by cancer.  I will gladly take on more work for a colleague who is struggling with a life-threatening illness because I would want someone to do that for me – or for my brother, mother, cousin or nephew.

My advice is to just do what you can.  Whether that’s as big as taking on one of their accounts for the time being, or as small as sending an uplifting email.   Don’t avoid them because you are worried about saying the wrong thing – even small talk is greatly appreciated.

You needn’t be Mother Theresa sitting a bedside vigil.  But, for those of you who are uncomfortable around “sick” people or hospitals and avoid your friend or peer because of that, my harsh suggestion is to suck it up – it’s a fear that stems from one’s own issues and the sick person shouldn’t be punished for it.  Cancer is sadly becoming more prevalent in our society, so unfortunately you’re going to have to deal with it sooner than later.  More importantly, your colleague will appreciate your demonstrative support more than you could imagine.  I also think you’ll feel better too.

Today my friend asked me to bring him Hawaiian punch, even though he can only drink an inch of it.  I’ll take it to him and hopefully he’ll feel well enough to sit in the sun along the lake.

Small Biz Owners: Ace That Media Interview with These 5 tips

As a small business owner, the odds are likely that at some point in your position, you’ll be approached for a media interview.  This could be anything from an influential trade journal requesting your  viewpoint on a particular Microphone freemarket segment within your industry, to a local television news show wanting to cover a milestone of your family owned business. Either way, it can be a terrific opportunity to generate positive brand awareness and showcase your expertise.  Unless an interview request is surrounding a tragedy or has a negative slant, I typically encourage my clients to talk to the media.

Note that in this article, we are not talking about a hostile type of interview akin to the one depicted in the funny, fictitious SNL skit starring Martin Short as a sweaty, chain-smoking oil lobbyist nervously dodging very tough interview questions from Robert Kennedy Jr. (see the hilarious clip here: http://bit.ly/uZX4X ).  That genre of interviews requires much more thorough and intense preparation (though you can check out a prior post on “Preparing for a Crisis” here: http://bit.ly/13OyafA ).

For this purpose, we will focus on the instances when the media wants your point of view on a newsworthy topic related to your area of expertise.  We see this often – an obvious example of this is when James Gandolfini died recently from a heart attack and local and national news outlets scrambled to get cardiologists to interview and explain the causes and symptoms of heart attacks. Another type of media request might come because your industry’s top trade magazine wants your point of view as they write a feature article on a broader topic. In any case, whatever the reason you’re speaking to the media, it’s important to be prepared so that your message is clearly and appropriately communicated.

Following these 5 simple tips can make a world of difference in how your interview turns out.

1.  Familiarize Yourself with that Show or Publication
You don’t necessarily have to be an avid viewer of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” but if you’re booked on it,  do try to watch a few shows in advance to get a flavor for the format as well as to see how the hosts interact with their guests.  This also helps in not calling the host by the wrong name, which once happened with one of my clients.

The same goes true with trade journals – take a peek at some past articles written by the reporter with whom you’ll be speaking so that you may familiarize yourself with that publication’s format so that you may then provide your expertise in that genre.  Reporters typically respond more favorably when they know you took the time to understand their material.

2. Whenever possible, find out the topic you will be asked to discuss
Be sure that you clearly understand the topic and angle you’ll be asked to comment on so that you may prepare accordingly.   Most reporters will provide this to you (in the case of a non-hostile type of interview of course). In the case of trade publications, the interviews are usually scheduled a few days or weeks in advance, giving you time to prepare.  Be sure to use that time to develop your key messaging points as well as pull any research statistics that would help drive home your point.

3.  Prep & Practice
Your interview is scheduled so now you and your team can develop your key messaging points.  For example, if your company is announcing a special partnership with a non-profit organization, prepare to explain how your company is getting involved with this particular charity, why it’s relevant and the benefit to the audience.  Know your elevator speech and any other important statistics you want to convey and be sure to keep all of your talking points short and succinct. If the interview is a broadcast one, go ahead and ask a colleague to help you practice by acting the interviewer.

4.  Relax and Be Yourself
Yes, it’s nervewracking.  Of course you want to make sure you know your stuff and don’t stumble over your words.  However, realize that you are being interviewed because you are an expert at something.  This alone should give you the confidence to  help you to stay unfettered and do your thing.

Do whatever it takes to keep your voice calm and steady in the minutes before the interview (deep breaths, clear your throat, etc.).  If you interviewer partakes in light banter before the start of the interview, by all means be congenial with him or her in order to build rapport.  While it is a nice surprise to discover you both went to the same small college in New England, don’t let that trip down memory lane distract you too much from your task at hand.

Also, know that anything you say is usually fair game.  Some journalists adhere to the ‘off the record’ notion; others do not.  I always caution my clients to choose all of their words wisely.

In the interview, if you’re asked a question and you don’t know that answer, don’t try to make up something and ramble on.  It’s best to say you don’t know the answer but will find out and move on.  This then provides you with a reason to later contact the interviewer, which leads to the next tip.

5.  Be grateful and patient
After the interview, thank the interviewer and let them know you’ll follow-up on anything you promised to provide them.  Don’t ask them if you can see their story before its published which is often insulting to most media – although there are instances with trade publications where they will let you see it beforehand to make sure the facts are straight.

You may ask for a general time frame of when the article or program will appear.  If they don’t have a specific date, follow up once in a couple of weeks, but do not badger them – sometimes stories don’t make the cut or get pushed back for a variety of reasons including more pressing news or the fact that an editor wants to save the article for a bigger series or industry feature.

Once the article comes out, try not to nit-pick too much.  Unless something is a flat-out error, don’t complain about style issues or words you’d rather have attributed to you.  If you generally are pleased, go ahead and send a quick email thanking the reporter and offering your expertise in the future.  See, that was easy, wasn’t it? Now go ahead and give yourself a big pat on the back!

Remember, relationships with the media can be mutually beneficial.  You are providing them with the expertise they are looking for, and they are capturing that expertise to help you bring awareness and credibility to your brand.  Go get ‘em!