If, like me, you spend a lot of your life in meetings, you probably want to ensure that time spent in those meetings is as useful and enjoyable as possible.

This week, I was struck by the report about Amazon boss Jeff Bezos who has banned the use of powerpoint in meetings and instead starts every meeting with a 6 page memo which people then read in silence for the first 30 minutes of the meeting.

You will all have your own view as to whether this would be a good, weird or awful thing to do, but it has made me think again about what makes a good meeting.

I’ve written about good decision-making via this blog previously (inspired by waggle-dancing bees here), and I think this remains one of the most important things to drive forward nature conservation. We are social animals and so need good meetings full of productive conversations resulting in great decisions which have impact on nature: where and on what species or places we should invest finite conservation resources, what’s the best way to build lasting collaborations, how to inspire more public and political support for nature.

Last week, I was with colleagues in Wales visiting RSPB Vyrnwy – the largest organic sheep farm in Wales. There was a lot to discuss: how to maintain a profitable and nature-rich farm post Brexit, what management is needed to drive curlew and black grouse conservation, how to raise the public profile of nature, how to develop great working relationships with other organisations and how to strengthen links between RSPB Welsh and Headquarter teams.

During these two days, we had incredibly useful conversations on moors, in cattle and lambing sheds, in a pub, on a train, in a cinema and, yes, even in a meeting room (albeit one with a great view of Lake Vyrnwy itself). We were prepared, had an agenda, ticked off the issues we needed to address, left with some good ideas and a list of meaningful actions.

I’d love to say all my RSPB ‘meetings’ are as productive as these, but they are not. I have sometimes asked, why am I here? What are we trying to achieve in this conversation? When will this meeting stop? If you have ever had these thoughts, then wouldn’t it make sense to do something about it so you don’t feel like that again?

So, here are my top tips for effective meetings:

  1. Avoid all day meetings: they are exhausting and become wars of attrition
  2. Only book a meeting when you are absolutely clear what you want from that meeting and how it will help you have greater impact
  3. Avoid establishing too many standing committees: they create a life of their own and can lose their original purpose
  4. Think about when the meeting takes place: for example, it is a bad idea to organise a brainstorm on a Monday morning (when folk have not have warmed up after the weekend) or Friday afternoon (when energy levels are low)
  5. Think about where the meeting takes place: have you noticed how many times people sit in the same seats in the same meeting room and then conform to type? Break the cycle and go somewhere different and yes, even outside.
  6. Be prepared: if there are papers, make sure they are good papers and easy to understand, and make sure people have read them. If not, try the Amazon tactic and see what happens.
  7. End the meeting when you’ve done what you need to do: don’t expand the conversation to fill the allotted time
  8. Make sure that the person who needs to make the decision you want is in the room
  9. Always, always review your meetings because you can always do things to make your next meeting better

Phew. I am glad that I have got that off my chest.

But, you may have a different perspective. What do you think makes a good meeting and what’s the best place you have ever had a meeting?

It would be great to hear your views.

And, if you have simply had enough of meetings, I hope you have a wonderful weekend in the sunshine watching wildlife.

  • I agree with all your points Martin. I would add, always have an agenda and the names of the persons to lead on each subject. The aganda may or may not include any “other business” . Allocate a time for the meeting and try to stick to it. Hold people to the subject, people love to divert to their pet topics. Try to summarise the conclusions at the end of each subject discussed and the actions need by each person present .A short set of notes of meeting listing the actions agreed and who is to take them is good.