Please stop using these phrases in meetings.

Virtual meetings make it incredibly easy to meet and connect with teams, clients, business partners, and anyone we work with, at any time. 

But why do we feel that things still get lost in translation? Or that meetings aren’t always productive? We’ll give you a hint – it’s our meeting habits. Some habits are new, some are old, but almost all of them could use a refresh to make our offices more productive. So to get you started, these are our top 5 things to stop doing in meetings (and what to do instead). 

Man banging head again computer keyboard.

I’ll give you 20 minutes of your life back.

It’s become common for meeting planners to joke about giving everyone 10, 20, or 30 minutes of their life back after a meeting is canceled or cut short. 

While this is often said with the best intentions. This is also a small acknowledgment that meetings aren’t always a good use of everyone’s time. So in reality, the issue is not the phrase. It’s actually people feeling that too many meetings can keep them from more important work. 

Here’s a few tips to stamp out “20 minutes of your life” once and for all:

Limit meetings to only those who absolutely need to share information, give feedback or make decisions. If you don’t want people to feel left out, let them know that the meeting is optional for them. They are more than welcome to be there and contribute.  

Plan meetings away from deadlines. If one team has a big deadline that week and doesn’t need direction, maybe do a quick instant message check-in, and then push the meeting to the following week.

The goal is to create a culture where everyone understands that meetings only happen when absolutely necessary. Giving people enough time to prepare accordingly. 

Three men in a conference room having a meeting.

This meeting could have been an email.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “This could have been an email.” We’ve said it, we’ve lived, we may be thinking it right now, but what does it really mean? And why does it keep happening? 

To us, this phrase is a sign that not everyone is on the same page. 

Maybe not everyone sees the meeting topic as urgent. Or required all hands on deck collaboration. Most likely though, it’s just a misunderstanding about when to have a meeting, and when not to.

It’s difficult to get quick face to face time like we used to. Employees may feel that a virtual meeting is their only option to talk about something that could have been resolved in seconds with a short hallway chat. 

To help limit this problem, try creating guidelines for when instant messaging, email, phone calls, and virtual meetings make the most sense. The goal is to develop a system where employees know the best way to reach people, or more simply – when to Zoom, and when not to Zoom. 

Three men trying to make a plan.

Starting the meeting with no plan or agenda. 

No agenda usually means not a lot will get done. We’re not saying your virtual meeting won’t be fun though!

Every meeting should have a topic to discuss, a problem to solve, a decision to be made, and a framework to get that done. The exception might be for brainstorming meetings, but even then, it’s not a bad idea to give people some ideas to get the creative juices flowing. 

If you find yourself in a meeting with no plan (maybe a weekly project that’s been repeated for months). Take a moment to create an agenda on the spot. 

Ask what everyone’s most pressing topics are (chances are it won’t be a very long lost list). Then give each topic a set amount of time to discuss. Once this structure is in place, everyone should be able to get what they need taken care of and get on with their workday. 

Man retreating to his office.

Leaving a meeting without doing anything or taking clear steps to get stuff done 

The meeting ended and nothing got done. Tell a scarier story in 7 words or less. We dare you! 

It’s OK to hit a wall in a meeting. It’s OK to not figure out the creative work or come to a decision when you want to. That’s all part of the process and totally normal. But problems happen when there aren’t any steps taken to push things in the right direction. 

As you close the meeting, make sure everyone knows the specific areas they are to explore for more ideas or tasks to complete. Try not to leave anything open-ended. 

If everyone really did hit a wall. Encourage people to take a break, go for a walk, or have a photo contest in their neighborhood or have them submit their best pet photo. Also, remind people that they’ll figure it out, because they’ve done it before, and they can do it again. 

A mouse hovering over the unmute button in a virtual meeting.

“You’re on mute… You’re freezing… We didn’t hear anything you said” 

Everyone shouting “you’re on mute, or freezing,” believe it or not, does not help the flow of the meeting. 

Most likely the person was on mute to be respectful. So getting hit with a barrage of voices as soon as they start their pitch is not really in line with the situation. 

Instead, designate one person at each meeting to be the tech moderator. If someone is on mute, or there’s any other kind of disturbance on the feed. Have one person give the speaker a gentle nudge. Maybe, “Hey Steve, check your mute. Oh, and the plant is looking good today!”

Rotate tech moderators so that one person doesn’t feel like they are telling people what to do all the time. 

Keep in mind that technology can bring us together. Sometimes we have to do a little extra to make sure it’s a positive connection for everyone. 

We’re all learning how to meet more productively these days. 

Many of the situations we mentioned here didn’t exist a couple of years ago, so it’s important to remember that we’re all learning how to make work better. 

Instead of talking about giving people 20 minutes of their life back, make sure that when meetings do happen, everyone knows it’s an important event. Develop a system that lets people know what “could have been an email,” and what needs to be a meeting. And with everything, keep it positive, no matter how many times people forget to unmute! 

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