5 Golden Rules To Cure Meeting Overload

July 25, 2016

As a specialist in presentations, I often find myself confronted by training participants who ask me how best to present in a project status meeting, or an information-sharing meeting, or some other kind of meeting.

They are initially surprised by my simple, blunt answer: “Don’t.”

Never pollute a meeting with an unnecessary presentation. A meeting is a great opportunity for discussion, interaction and decision-making. A presentation is an ineffective way of taking up valuable discussion time, or just lengthening a meeting and making it more boring than it should be.

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Why is a presentation ineffective in a meeting situation? It’s very simple. We forget most of what we hear very quickly. This makes an oral presentation an extremely bad way of transmitting information from one brain to another. No matter that most presentations suck – even a TED-quality presentation is a very inefficient way of transmitting information.

Presentations are fantastic ways of transforming people, not informing them. If you want to change their beliefs, feelings or actions, by all means present. But if you want people to take in and remember new information, a far more effective way is to give them three things: a document to read; quiet time to read it; and coffee.

Here, therefore, are my five golden rules for meetings, and any company that follows these will most certainly cure their meeting overload problem, and free up time for real work.

1. Information is read, not presented

Amazon and LinkedIn are two of the world’s fastest-growing, most successful modern companies. One key point they have in common is that they do not allow presentations in meetings. (Neither did Steve Jobs.)

Instead, meetings begin with reading time. The meeting organiser has prepared and printed a real document – not a set of bullet-points, but a real standalone document with full paragraphs – and the meeting begins with at least ten minutes of silent reading time so that every participant is quite literally on the same page.

Slide Bezos Meetings Quote.035

Of course, you can share the document in advance, but there’s always someone who doesn’t read it, so you need to leave them enough time in the meeting to read it. Everyone else can read it for a second time, and it’s worth doing.

This document contains all the context, background, details and ideas the participants need to know, as well as the meeting objective and the discussion points and decisions they aim to take. By reading it – ideally with a coffee – they will remember far more, and in far less time, than they would have if somebody had presented it to them orally. Then they can ask questions, discuss, and reach agreement in far less time than typical meetings take.

Forcing meeting organisers to prepare such documents – instead of their bullet-ridden slide decks – makes them think carefully about the meeting objective, and their subject. It also means that they only organise meetings they really need.

Lastly, this document is also very helpful for people who couldn’t make it or weren’t required to attend; and it makes writing up the meeting minutes so much faster.

Which brings me to point number 2:

2. Every meeting is minuted

If you’re going to take people’s valuable time, you need to have something to show for it. The initial document is a very helpful summary of the background. The meeting minutes should be annexed to this document, explaining the key points of the discussion, which decisions were taken, and which actions were agreed upon.

Providing the initial document and the meeting minutes to those who may need to be informed (even without participating) allows you to implement point 3:

3. No unnecessary participants

By always providing details of what happened in meetings, you can invite fewer people: busy managers will know that they will not miss out by not attending meetings, so it will no longer be necessary to invite people just so they stay informed about the topic.

The efficiency of any meeting is more or less inversely proportional to the number of participants: any more than six people, and productivity dives off a cliff. For some topics, two is a very good number; for others, three or four can be great. Five or six can sometimes work, but there is usually someone who participates very little in such a group.

Slide Lots of meeting participants

Therefore it is vital to invite only those people who absolutely need to be there. Anyone else interested in the topic can elect to receive the brief and the minutes.

This frees up a lot of people, meaning on average everyone spends less of their day stuck in meetings. It also makes meetings more efficient, since conclusions can be reached faster with fewer participants. And this enables you to enact point 4:

4. Meetings last 25 minutes by default

In most companies, the default meeting duration is one hour. That’s how our calendars work, and nobody seems to challenge this idea. Yet it has two major problems.

The first is that an hour is a very long time to be sat in a meeting room, unable to get on with your real work, and many subjects don’t actually need that long.

The second is that if you have a 10.00-11.00 meeting in one room, and an 11.00-12.00 meeting on another floor or in another building, then you are almost certainly going to be late for the second meeting. If your day is full of meetings, you will create a domino effect. If people are routinely late for meetings, then people without prior meetings will also arrive late to avoid wasting time, and this thoroughly annoys those people who respectfully arrive on time.

Therefore I strongly recommend setting the default meeting duration to 25 minutes – including the ten minutes or so of quiet reading time at the start. Fifteen minutes can often be quite enough to make decisions when you already have all the background information, and when there aren’t ten or more people around the table.

Thus, if your meeting is from 10.00 to 10.25, and you have another meeting planned at 10.30, you still have five minutes to get to the next meeting, even with a short stop on the way if you have an important appointment with the smoking room, coffee machine or rest-room.

If 25 minutes just isn’t enough – and while it’s a good default, some meetings do need longer – then you can have meetings lasting 55 minutes. Always leave five minutes before the top or bottom of the hour so people can get to their next meeting on time. And always ensure that anyone requesting your time justifies why they need more than 25 minutes: this ensures they only request longer when it’s really necessary.

If your company always sticks to the default 25-minute duration, with the option of 55 minutes, then you will be able to enforce rule 5:

5. Meetings start and finish on time

In some countries, this may sound obvious: it’s a simple matter of respect that participants arrive on time and that the meeting organiser ensures they leave on time.

I live in France. It’s not obvious here. In fact, last week when I suggested this to a French client as a golden rule of meetings, I was bluntly reminded with a mix of shock and amusement: “But this is France!”

Yet this same client – and everyone else in the meeting – readily accepted that they find it very annoying and disrespectful for people to turn up late without an apology, and that it would be so much better if everyone was punctual.

The trouble with punctuality is that it is either a virtuous circle, or a vicious circle. If people are almost always on time, the exception stands out, and not in a good way. Latecomers feel bad, and will do their best not to be late again.

On the other hand, if lateness is tolerated, it becomes frequent, and even those who would prefer meetings to start on time may turn up late because they know for sure that there’s no point being on time. Thus a lack of punctuality becomes a vicious circle. If allowed to perpetuate, it becomes France. (And France is certainly not the least punctual place on the planet.)

Change needs to start at the top, so if senior managers make a point of always being on time, and calling people out for being late – and if you follow Rule 4, making it possible for people to be punctual – then you can build a culture where meetings regularly start on time.

Of course, they also have to finish on time, otherwise people will be late for their next meeting. Therefore the meeting organiser needs to take responsibility for timekeeping, and ensure that the meeting is summarised, decisions and actions are noted, and participants are free to leave, on time or ideally a little before.

Bonus Rule: No unnecessary meetings

It should go without saying – but I’ll say it anyway, because it isn’t that obvious in many companies – that you should only arrange meetings when you actually want people to participate and when you need something from them. Far too many meetings are just for information-sharing, and if you ask the organiser for his or her objective, it is simply: “So that people are informed about XYZ.” And naturally, they aim to present that information orally, perhaps with lots of bullet-points, giving participants hardly any chance of remembering X, let alone Y or Z.

As Garr Reynolds wrote, if the only reason for your presentation is to share information, you should distribute a handout and cancel the presentation.

Likewise, if the only reason for your meeting is to share information, cancel it, write the document, and share it. The reason people don’t do this any more is because nobody has any time to read such documents – because they spend so much of their time in meetings.

If you can cure their meeting overload, then you are giving them the gift of time, and they will have time to read such documents. Use a task manager to give them the task of reading your document so they get reminded of it; or find a spare ten minutes in their calendar and invite them to a meeting where they don’t have to go anywhere – they just have time blocked to read your document. This makes it far more likely they will read it than just sending them an email.

If you need a discussion, and to take decisions, and to establish an action plan, then a meeting can be useful. If not, it’s a huge waste of everyone’s time.

So let’s summarise these few golden rules of meetings:

  1. Information is read, not presented
  2. Every meeting is minuted
  3. No unnecessary participants
  4. Meetings last 25 minutes by default
  5. Meetings start and finish on time

And the bonus rule:

  • No unnecessary meetings

These simple rules are based on my long experience in major corporations, as well as the best practices of some of the world’s most dynamic organisations. I have absolutely no doubt that if you adopt these rules, your people will attend fewer meetings; the ones they do attend will not last as long, and will be more efficient; and that will boost your people’s productivity and pleasure at work. Maybe then your organisation will become as agile as Amazon or LinkedIn – but that’s up to you. 

Try it, and please tell me how it works for you.


The Presentation Zen Experience

February 26, 2016

ideasonstage.com-presentation-zen-experience-project-page2

Ideas on Stage is honoured to be trusted by Garr Reynolds to run the official Presentation Zen Experience workshops, and we’ve got a schedule of great courses in place for 2016 in Europe and the USA.

The Presentation Zen Experience is a two-day hands-on workshop combining Garr’s distinctive approach to presentations with Ideas on Stage’s proven methods and years of experience working with companies, schools and speakers. The result is a highly practical experience that helps participants to apply Presentation Zen to business presentations, the academic world, and major conferences.

The first day covers preparation and design, with plenty of exercises so participants apply the methods and build their own presentation; and on day two, they will refine and deliver their presentations, while learning new speaking techniques and practising approaches from Presentation Zen and The Naked Presenter.

The objective is that everyone leaves the course feeling able and confident to apply the Presentation Zen approach in their own workplace.

While Garr won’t be there himself, he designed this course together with us, he is 100% supportive, and the course features much of Garr’s usual material plus specially-filmed videos of Garr, so it’s almost as if he’s with us.

To find out more, to find a Presentation Zen Experience near you and to sign up for this unforgettable workshop, visit our web site at http://www.presentationzen.eu. Places are limited and we anticipate high demand, so sign up fast and tell your friends and colleagues!

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Why is Ideas on Stage delivering Presentation Zen courses?

It’s a fair question. In fact, you could ask it two ways:

  • why does Garr trust us to deliver his official courses?
  • and why are we interested in delivering his courses when we already have our own ones, and are about to publish our own presentation book?

We’ve been running seminars and events with Garr since we started Ideas on Stage back in 2010, and in fact it was very much Garr who inspired us to start Ideas on Stage in the first place. We have a lot to thank him for.

From my point of view, having spent a summer in Japan when I was a student, and having studied Japanese culture at university, the application of basic Japanese principles such as restraint, simplicity, naturalness, harmony and respect to typical business presentations seems really obvious – but it needed Garr to make it seem obvious. When I first read Presentation Zen, apart from enjoying the style and design, I simply felt somehow at home. It was as if I was re-learning something that deep down I already knew, or perhaps should have realised.

Garr knows that we are keen followers of his approach (so much so that we regularly distribute his books to our clients), and he’s been a great supporter over the years, even featuring us in The Naked Presenter. He has also followed our rapid growth over the past six years, and seen us expand internationally while staying true to our quality-first principle, becoming the first truly international and multilingual specialist in the new brand of great presentations inspired by Garr, by TED and by Apple.

Garr IoS Kakemono smallSo from Garr’s point of view, being based in Japan with a regular job and a young family, it makes sense to partner with an international presentation specialist that so closely shares his approach, so he can bring Presentation Zen to a wider audience without leaving Japan.

From our point of view, our mission is to make presentations rhyme with communication, motivation and inspiration, and we believe that combining our methods and teaching with the Presentation Zen approach and brand makes for a very powerful combination, and will help us to take the Business Presentation Revolution to an even wider audience.

We also believe Ideas on Stage is ideally positioned to deliver this workshop. We bring something extra to the table, because one thing Garr doesn’t do is help other people with their presentations. We have built up years of hands-on practical experience of building and delivering great business presentations, working with hundreds of speakers (TED, TEDx, WikiStage and many other great conferences), hundreds of entrepreneurs, and dozens of leading international corporations. We also train presentation skills all the time, whereas Garr mostly delivers short and excellent keynotes, when he can get away from being a full-time professor. And it’s the real-life examples and experience of applying Presentation Zen in business and teaching that allow us to deliver a workshop that even goes beyond what you’ll find in Garr’s books.

We also have the advantage of being based in Europe and covering the main European languages, as well as working regularly with clients in eastern North America, whereas Garr is rarely on this side of the world. We can bring the Presentation Zen message to far more people, in more languages, in Europe and North America.

So the combination of Garr’s powerful approach, his feel for Japanese culture and his distinctive design skills, together with our experience with so many clients and our proven methods and techniques, all makes for a fantastic hands-on workshop.

If you follow this blog then likely you already know a lot about the new art of presenting… perhaps The Presentation Zen Experience could be a way for your friends, colleagues or boss to discover it too.

Garr and Marion Kakemono

Garr Reynolds with Marion Chapsal, Chief Learning Officer at Ideas on Stage


Wiki Stage – The Video Education Revolution

March 19, 2013

In the beginning, there was Death By PowerPoint. And then there was TED, a series of conferences that managed to be entertaining and enjoyable, and showed the world that presentations can be more effective when they are short, well-prepared and intentionally interesting.

escp paris_whiteNow there is Wiki Stage, a new non-profit initiative to promote education through events and online videos, and I’m extremely honoured to be speaking at the very first Wiki Stage event, at ESCP Europe in Paris on March 30th 2013, and proud that Ideas on Stage is partnering with Wiki Stage to ensure that all the talks are top-quality, just as we have with so many TEDx events in the last three years.

Rather than explain what I think Wiki Stage is, here’s an interview I did with Johannes Bittel, founder and president of Wiki Stage, so you can hear it directly from him.

So Johannes, what is Wiki Stage?

Events and Videos – that’s what we do. We want people to have a fantastic time while learning something! By mixing experts with artists on stage and combining this with plenty of networking opportunities, we want to create a fun learning environment around a Wiki Stage. But the best way to find out is to actually experience it! We are organising the first of these events very soon, on March 30 at ESCP Europe around Internet, Jazz, Economy, Theatre…

But a great show with 6 or 12-minute talks and performances is only part of the story. The vision behind this event on March 30 is that you and me can create a new Wiki Project, a video encyclopedia, that can bring knowledge on stage and let people learn through videos.

How did you come up with the idea?

I often asked myself “Why does Wikipedia not exist in video?” Video is so powerful for delivering a message and often it would be much easier to watch a video than to read a text. Popular websites, such as YouTube, prove that the technology is already there. This could help so many people, but we don’t yet have a quality video library online.

We are a bunch of energetic volunteers, who believe that this would be a better world if knowledge was more accessible. If experts would present their insights on a stage with energy and passion, their message could reach and impact so many people. This is true especially for those among us to whom the simple act of reading a book or encyclopaedia article is not intuitive, because they may not have had the privilege of the education they deserve. This is why our dream is to bring Wikipedia on stage! If many volunteers bring remarkable people on a Wiki Stage, film them and share this knowledge in video online, then we could learn and be impacted by our experts in way more profound ways than we can with written text today.

How is Wiki Stage different from TED?

Once a year, the TED event in California gathers a group of very influential people to spread ideas on Technology, Entertainment and Design. That is very different from our vision for Wiki Stage – we want to create a stage for you! Instead of spreading ideas from a few to many, with Wiki Stage, we believe that many should share with many, and we aim to have Wiki Talks in many languages, and not just have most talks in English. You, or the experts and artists you know, have something to bring to the world – and that is why we offer the Wiki Stage to you as organiser, speaker or as a guest in the audience who wants to enjoy a great show! It is very important to us to keep the prices for Wiki Stage events at an accessible level and to make it easy for people to get a license.

You’re still a big TED fan though, right?

Yes, I’ve been watching the talks for many years now and whenever I can, I attend TED or TEDx events. Just a few weeks ago, I was at one of their events in California. I love what they do.

What is your vision for Wiki Stage?

948b14ac3c32d42df857d535cab50984 “All the world’s a stage” is a Shakespeare quote that I love. Imagine how much fun it would be if many people in universities, libraries, museums, theatres or other institutions that are dedicated to learning, art and culture would set up their own Wiki Stage. There are so many remarkable people around us and we would give them the attention they deserve to share their experiences with us and through video with everybody over the internet – I believe this could change the world.

This is a non-profit organisation. Where does the money come from?

If a public institution or a for-profit company decided that they wanted to create a video encyclopaedia, the costs for that could easily amount to millions of euros. Whoever takes on this challenge would need to pay experts, studios, cameras, editors, etc., etc. – which means that it would not be financially viable to provide the videos online for free. If, however, volunteers decide to do it not for profit, then it can work. Each event organiser covers his costs thanks to sponsors and ticket sales and everybody involved is working together in a Wiki Spirit of collaboration towards creating a video library of knowledge. The best way for you to support this project is to buy your ticket to a Wiki Stage event. And why wait? There’s your chance to experience a great show and an unforgettable afternoon on March 30 at ESCP Europe in Paris!

Apart from Wiki Stage ESCP, are there other events planned?

We are a very young project, born just a couple of months ago – yet, I am thrilled to see that students at ESSEC, Centrale, Cité Universitaire and Sorbonne are already planning to organise their own Wiki Stage events. It’s easy for people to make their own event and people are starting to contact us about this – it’s exciting! Last week I received an email from somebody in Casablanca…😉

Get your ticket for the Wiki Stage world premiere on March 30 at WikiStage.org

Connect with Wiki Stage:

facebook.com/WikiStage

twitter.com/WikiStage

youtube.com/WikiStage

Wiki Stage ESCP Poster JPG


Presentation 2.0 – The New Art of Business Presenting

December 3, 2012

Presentation 2.0 Logo v1Most presentations suck. Ask most people to close their eyes and imagine themselves in the audience for a presentation, and they will break into a cold sweat. Presentation should rhyme with communication, inspiration and fascination – but all too often, it simply rhymes with boredom.

This means two important things for presenters. Firstly, if an audience is bored, they’re not interested, they’re not listening, and they’re not going to do what you want them to do. Secondly, if most presentations suck so badly, those presenters who make an effort can rise above the crowd, communicate better, and spread their ideas effectively.

So upgrade to Presentation 2.0, and make your presentations interesting, effective, and memorable. Here’s how – four disciplines which others ignore or suck at: preparation, storytelling, visual design, and delivery.

1. Preparation

Any great edifice needs a strong foundation. For a presentation, that foundation is the preparation. This is where you analyze your audience and their needs, set clear and concrete objectives, and choose a few key messages to help you achieve those objectives.

The audience might remember how you make them feel, they may remember some of what they see, but they will certainly forget most of what you say. They might recall three things. Don’t leave it to chance and hope they remember the right things – choose the three key messages you want them to remember.

Slide Fail to Prepare.027

2. Storytelling

Storytelling is the art of structuring your presentation to communicate messages effectively and interestingly; and using narrative techniques and devices to make them memorable.

When Steve Jobs pulled a Macbook Air out of an envelope, that was storytelling. It was a technique designed to communicate a key message – “The world’s thinnest notebook” – and make it stick.

I once sold a print services contract to a major Brazilian customer, but first I had to convince them they had a problem. So I demonstrated that each year, their printed pages laid end-to-end would stretch from the source of the Amazon all the way to the Atlantic (mouths gaped open) – and then back again (jaws hit floor). That’s storytelling.

If you think hard enough, you can find a way to make anything interesting and memorable.

3. Visual Design

Ever suffered “Death By PowerPoint”? Most businesspeople face it every day, so they dread the moment when someone asks to switch on the projector.

Most slides obstruct communication. They assume the audience can read and listen simultaneously, that bullet points are memorable, and that the audience doesn’t mind the presenter using slides as speaker notes. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

But it doesn’t need to be that way. A deck of slides can assist communication and make your key messages memorable. It’s just a question of good design.

A typical useless slideument

4. Delivery

A great presenter can make anything fascinating. It’s about voice, speed, gestures, comfort, eye contact, movement, humor, charisma, and above all, preparation and rehearsal.

You can learn this. We’re not born orators. As Emerson said, “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”

Slide Emerson Bad Speakers.003

Working hard at each of these four disciplines will make your presentations interesting, effective, and memorable. It’ll help you stand out from the crowd. If your audience sees four boring and forgettable 1.0 presentations, and one effective and memorable Presentation 2.0, it’s clear which presenter has the advantage. Make sure it’s you.

This article was first published in SOLD Magazine, the leading worldwide monthly for sales professionals, as part of Phil’s regular Presentation 2.0 column.


Tuesday Nov 6th 2012: Tweet-up with Garr Reynolds

November 4, 2012

As regular readers will be well aware, Garr Reynolds is in London this week for the Presentation Zen European Seminar 2012, and the world premiere of his new seminar, the Presentation Zen Storytelling Masterclass, both in association with Ideas on Stage. As in 2010 and 2011, we are extremely proud to work with Garr and bring his unique approach to presentations to a wider audience in Europe.

Garr also sees this as an opportunity to meet like-minded people, fans etc, so each year we also organize a ‘tweet-up’, which is simply a time and place where Garr’s fans can come along, buy a drink and chat with him. No tickets, no entry fee, nothing formal – just a meet-up, but organized via social media, hence the name ‘tweet-up’.

As Garr will be giving a short talk at the Apple Store in Regent Street, all about Keynote, from 6-7pm on Tuesday 6th November, we’re organizing the tweet-up just after that, and just around the corner. It will be at an eclectic place called Flat Planet, which serves drinks of course but which is famous for its excellent organic flatbreads. We’ve reserved the basement from 7.15pm to 9.00pm so please come along, get a drink and/or a flatbread, and come down to chat with Garr.

I’ll be there too of course, so if you are in the London area, come and join us, and by all means come and enjoy Garr’s talk at the Apple Store beforehand.

Address: Flat Planet, 39 Great Marlborough Street, London W1F 7JG (next to Liberty)

Time: Tuesday 6th November 2012, 7.15pm – 9.00pm

Here’s a link to a Google map showing the location together with the route from the Apple Store in Regent Street.


Not Just European – The 2012 Presentation Zen European Seminar

October 9, 2012

With a month to go before this year’s Presentation Zen European Seminar, we have a remarkable range of people coming to London to see Garr Reynolds and learn the new way of presenting from the master himself.

We have people coming from 16 countries (so far), including the USA, Canada and Japan, so it isn’t really a European Seminar any more! Once again, Garr is proving to be a star attraction, and I’m sure this year’s seminar is going to be as amazing as our Paris seminars in 2010 and 2011.

We’ve already sold out the Presentation Zen Storytelling Masterclass on November 8th, aimed mainly at those who’ve already attended the Presentation Zen Seminar, but we still have some places left for the main seminar on November 7th 2012, at the Hilton London Paddington – including some very cheap tickets for current students, with the reduction code PZSTUDENT.

So if you’d like to join us all in London, be fast because there aren’t many places left. Sign up now!


SOLD: a fantastic free magazine for sales professionals

August 14, 2012

I was recently contacted by the extremely friendly people at SOLD Labs, which publishes a fairly new online magazine called SOLD Magazine. They asked whether I’d be interested in writing a regular column. So of course my first course of action was to take a look at the magazine.

I have to say, I wasn’t expecting much. I’ve spent many years in sales and rarely found any published advice that was relevant to modern selling situations. B2B and B2C sales have changed immensely in the last 15 years, mostly thanks to the advances in information technology and the professionalisation of the procurement function in major companies. The old advice about how to sell a set of encyclopedias door-to-door just isn’t relevant any more.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover an attractive magazine, full of useful and relevant advice for modern salespeople, from experienced columnists and featured experts like Shep Hyken. And it includes a section about presentation skills which is truly modern – none of the old advice about seven bullets per page or three minutes per slide.

I liked it so much that I agreed to contribute a monthly column, focusing on the Presentation 2.0 approach which we’ve developed at Ideas on Stage. My first column appeared in the July edition.

So to check out my article, and plenty of other fine articles about selling, negotiating and presenting, please click through to SOLD Magazine, and sign up free to subscribe to future issues.

I was pleasantly surprised, and I hope you will be too.

 


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