At Catalyst Ranch, Chicago’s original creative meeting space, we host all kinds of meetings from week-long conferences to half-day meetings. Sometimes our clients have pre-meetings before meeting with the whole group, and sometimes clients break out to meet with have a a colleague across the country via conference call. How can you make the most of these mini-meetings? Here are some tips to make you a meeting efficiency expert!

Stick to the Agenda

Spend a few extra minutes before your meeting crafting a specific, goal-based agenda. Be able to describe the purpose of the meeting in five words or less. Distribute the agenda and any other “homework” to meeting attendees in a timely fashion, so they can review it and arrive at the meeting as prepared as possible.

Assign one person to be the timekeeper and give the group a two minute warning when you approaching the end of the allotted time for a given item on the agenda. Whoever is running the meeting needs to reign in conversations that are straying too far from the business at hand. If further discussion is needed, smaller groups can meet to follow up.

~William Shakespeare

~William Shakespeare

Stand Up!

Sure, you could make the meeting room extra cold or place participants in uncomfortable chairs to keep the meeting moving. Or, you could try a less draconian technique and have people stand up for the meeting. Standing up generates more energy and people are less likely to be distracted by their devices when they are standing in a circle.

A brief stand up meeting is especially helpful for small teams that meet daily. These regular check-ins sometimes have sporty names like the “team huddle,” and they’re a great idea when you have last minute information to relay and want to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

In a Washington University study, Andrew Knight and Markus Baer researched the effects of stand-up meetings versus sit-down meetings. They rated the ability of participants to work together, share ideas, and produce quality work using surveys, observation, and physiological sensors. They concluded that “standing up leads to greater excitement about the creative process and it allows for greater collaboration on ideas.”

energizer circle


Set a Timer!

“Meetings are like accordions – they stretch naturally to fill the allotted space,” says Victor Lipman of Forbes. Keep short meetings short – no more than 15 to 20 minutes. Science says that the average person can only truly pay attention for about 10 to 18 minutes at a time. If you whittle your content down to the most important 15 minutes, your team might actually be able to remember it all!

This trick can also work within full day meetings. When you break out into smaller groups, instead of saying, “Wrap up your discussions before lunch,” literally set a timer for 15 minutes. This will create a sense of urgency amongst meeting attendees and cut out any extra time for irrelevant side conversations.

In addition, time constraints can fuel creativity. When you only have a short time to work, you aren’t expected to present a perfectly polished idea. Timed activities or breakout sessions can be very useful in brainstorming sessions when your goal is to draw out a great number of innovative ideas.

this meeting is over



For more ideas, check out his article from Fast Company in which Kevan Lee sets down some scientifically–backed tips for a highly effective mini-meeting.  How do YOU make the most of a short meeting?  Please share your tips in the comments!