What meetings can learn from parties

You may have read my post on the cost of meetings. And while I feel most of them that we have to endure are useless, it is worth considering what a good meeting likes and feels like.

So in order to draw an analogy that we can all relate to, I thought I’d go for the idea behind the title of this blog post:

What meetings can learn from Parties.

Firstly the anticipation. When a we get an invite to a good party it is exciting. We start to look forward to it, plan it in our minds and think about some of the cool stuff that might happen. We think about who is going to be there and why the location sounds exciting, which could be on a boat in the harbour or just in your good friend Joey’s garage. We think about the atmosphere, and the music and actually do an ‘imagined version’ of the party in our heads. We plan for it and start to get prepared.

If it’s a party we are looking forward to we prepare for it. I mean, we want to ensure we bring stuff that makes the party better and makes the host know we appreciate the effort they are going to in order to make this thing happen. We know all good parties are an exchange where we all need to bring something. And we want the kudos that goes with making the party better.

If we are having a party the location matters. We decorate and move the furniture around. At good parties there is lots to look at, plenty of good food and people stand up, not sit down. We try and have as many conversations as we can, and meet some new people, maybe even form new long term relationships.

There is often a crescendo at a good party, a seminal speech or story that everyone enjoys. The moment that reminds us why we are all here, that salient moment. And then after it, the next day or the next week the party is talked about. Usually about how much fun it was, or why it sucked. We hope for the former. And if we are planning a party of our own, we want to learn from this one and even try and make ours a little better.

While we can’t do all of these things for meetings, the question is what things can we replicate from the party ethic? In the end we should try and make every meeting just a little bit less like a school assembly and just a little bit more like a party.


Meeting efficiency barometer

As I write this I am siting in an airport lounge and thinking about how much work I have got done, simply because I have not been interrupted by meetings.

But let me start by saying there is nothing more powerful than people sharing ideas when done right, the problem is that most meetings are what I call ‘Public Reading Scenarios’. That is people aggregating in the same room so that someone will read to them, something they could read in their own time, or more often the case, is totally irrelevant and no meeting is needed.

So I started doing this weird exercise every time I happen to be in a meeting filled with people. What I do is this:

  1. I count the number of people on the meeting.
  2. I decide what I think the average salary in the room is.
  3. I work out the hourly rate of the average salary.
  4. Add this to the number of hours the meeting goes for
  5. Work out the cost of meeting in wages

Last week I was in a meeting with 22 people. I calculated the average salary as $150k per annum, which then translated into an hourly rate of  $75. The meeting went for 5 hours. The cost of this meeting was then $8250. I don’t care how big or wealthy the companies involved are, this is a lot of money. What makes it more significant is that most meetings are pointless – as this one was.

This meeting in particular was what I call a ‘Public Reading Event’. There was now real exchange of ideas, debate or in depth discussion. Rather a few people stood in front of copy heavy power point slides and read it out to the people sitting around eating muffins and pretending to listen. A total waste of time and the $8250. This is before we add to the price the opportunity cost of real work that wasn’t done during the 5 hours, or the cost of the meeting ‘culture’ it creates. And we all know a strong ‘meeting culture’ results in a vortex of indecision and slow business practice.

No point raising the issue without proposing a solution. So here is mine.

We add a widget to every email / meeting / calendar organiser which does my calculation above and estimates the ‘Cost of the meeting’. So when the meeting request is sent through the organiser and the participants see the cost in time – which is the real cost. It would say something like – estimated cost of meeting $3000. If people have to travel it should calculate that cost as well. This will make people think twice before they send the meeting request. It will also make us think twice before we accept the request. We measure the cost of most things in a company, but for some reason we rarely measure the cost of employees time in ‘salary employee’ environments, which is ironic when they usually represent 20-50% of the cost of running most companies. The widget is a pretty simple idea that could be mashed into any calendar function. Maybe it’s an iPhone calendar app that someone ought build?

When a meeting does occur and we agree it is worth while and attend, there would be a pretty strong emphasis on the value that occurred during it. I’m certain that ‘Public Reading Events’ would be a rare experience indeed.

So the only question remaining is which nimble app startup firm is going to build this?


The real cost of meetings

Why we still have so many of them is beyond me. We know they waste a lot of time. We know they probably cost us more revenue than they generate. So what if we actually tried to quantify the real cost of meetings. Especially those with a cast of thousands, or say 5-10 people. Let me break it down.

Cost of meeting with 10 people in it:

10 people with an average annual salary of $100,000

Total salary of human resources = $1,000,000

Weekly cost of the salaries = $19,231

Cost of $480 an hour. So a 4 hour meeting costs just under $2000 to conduct in pure wages. Not to mention the cost of stuff not getting done while the meeting is happening. Or the cost of another weeks wages while people go away and think about it, before returing next week with the same 10 people to make the final decision.

Here’s an idea. Put the $2000 in the middle of the table (the cost of the meeting in wages). If it finishes in half the time split 50% of the money between the participants. If it finishes in a quarter of that time, split 75% of the funds amonst the participants….

Startupblog says: the best decisions are those that get made. The decisions which have a chance of being wrong so we can cross them off the list. Having expensive meetings just elongates the process. Avoid them where possible.