May 1st, 2007

The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) has found that its members’ clients waste far more time attending meetings than they gain in productivity from holding them.

To shorten an agenda, Karen Eber Davis of Karen Eber Davis Consulting, a nonprofit planning, grants and facilitation firm in Sarasota, Florida, suggests you adopt the following:
1. Review your agendas with a goal of reducing them by half.
2. Eliminate items, like information updates that can be done via email.
3. Prioritize the remaining items and schedule the high priorities.
4. List other items on a separate sheet to cover if there is time.

Pam Harper, President of Business Advancement Inc. in Glen Rock, NJ, notes that frequency and duration of meetings can be cut in half by asking, “What needs to be accomplished?” Keeping the focus on achieving outcomes enables you to adjust the agenda according to circumstances, down to deciding that the meeting is no longer necessary.

Alan Weiss, Ph.D., CEO of SAC, has looked at the results and observes, “When meetings are used to share information they are notoriously wastes of time. When they are used to gain consensus with a clear results mentality and good facilitation, they can save tremendous time. But, usually, the former prevails.”

Erin L. Feree, Principal of elf design, inc. in Belmont, Ca has found:
1. Design your processes to discourage meetings. Integrate technology solutions into your process that eliminate the need for you to be face-to-face with your consultants. Teleconferencing, web conferencing, and email can all help you stay off the road and in your office. Have
meetings only when these other systems won’t do. If your consultant insists on a meeting that you suspect might be unnecessary, ask “is there any other way that we can accomplish this—short of meeting?”
2. Meet smart. Prepare for your meetings—even though you’re the buyer. Do your homework, and walk in with a list of things you want to accomplish. That way, you’re more likely to get everything you need out of one meeting. This is especially invaluable before an agreement is signed—instead of doing several pre-project meetings, whittle it down to one meeting before the contract is set.

Consultant Joe Liss of Meatarie, LA suggests:
1. ALWAYS have an agenda.
2. Make sure all know what the goal of the meeting is.
3 Facilitate firmly so only one person is speaking at a time.
4. At the end of the meeting make sure all know their assignments and timetables.

You have less control of a meeting in which you are not in charge. If the meeting seems to be wandering, ask a question that brings the meeting back to the agenda. If you do not know what additional responsibilities you have as a result of the meeting, ask before leaving the meeting!

Keith McLeod, Owner of the Business Centre in Tucson, AZ adds:
Meetings must start on time and end on time; have a specific agenda with items to be discussed with a timetable rigidly enforced. I like to end by going around the table and having each make a brief comment.

This enables them to feel they were participants, and made a contribution. However, I’ve learned from my mentor and friend Larry Sternberg an even better approach, agendas are good; but desired outcomes are better. You should start each meeting with the following question: “If we accomplish our goals for this meeting, how will we know it?” If the host of the meeting could not answer the question in terms of outcomes, everybody left the room.

“Start reducing meeting frequency and duration,” concludes Weiss, “but don’t hold a meeting to figure out how to do so…”

SAC is an international association of consulting professionals who subscribe to an industry code of ethics and have provided evidence of significant consulting results among their clients. For more information, please go to, write to, or call 800/825-6153 (401/886-4097).