Thirty minutes into a 10 minute agenda item, boredom and frustration kicked in mightily among the group. The presenter had been told she had a maximum of 10 minutes for a “brief summary overview” of a project. This person was seasoned, and smart, so she had to know the word brief meant “of short duration.” The words summary and overview were also strong clues. Yet at 3 times the allotted limit, she was still going.
What went wrong?
This isn’t an unfamiliar or uncommon scenario to many of us and it happens more than it should. How does someone miss the cue card for staying within the given time for a presentation, a meeting or even an impromptu, “do you have a couple minutes?” office drive-by?
There are a few main reasons this happens:
1- The person isn’t thinking about the limit and the rest of the agenda, only what they need to communicate on their behalf to make their point;
2- They haven’t prepared to deliver a succinct and clear message, so they end up wasting words and time;
3- There isn’t a meeting facilitator or leader who is willing to take the reins back and regain control of the meeting and situation.
What’s the worst thing that can happen? Plenty.
· If it’s a habit for certain individuals to always go over, others may start to question his or her ability to manage and steward their own time;
· It may send a signal they don’t respect everyone else’s time;
· Others may stop engaging with the individual because they know they’re signing up for a larger time sacrifice than is available or necessary to discuss even a quick question;
· If every meeting goes an average of 15 minutes over, and the average executive spends 23 hours per week in meetings, that’s almost a 6-hour waste. (HBR, August 2017) The greatest opportunity costs for leaders occur for deep thinking and completing actual work, according to a study by Steven Rogelberg and his team at The University of N.C.;
· After one hour in a meeting, half of the attendees have checked out, missing pertinent information (meetingking.com).
How can we all become better at being brief?
· Plan what you’re going to say ahead of time – always. What’s the one key take away you want others to have? How can you get them there in two to three points? Hit the headlines. If people want more information, they’ll ask for it.
· Practice so you know how much time you’re going to take. Mark Twain said it best, “It takes at least three weeks just to prepare a good ad lib speech.” Even if it’s not a power presentation but rather a small portion of a meeting, the rule of practicing still applies. If you try to “wing it”, those wings will take you someplace you don’t need to go.
· Remind yourself that time is a finite resource. Whether it’s two people or 20, everyone in the room has multiple priorities. Yours, and the rest of those, must fit into their mental bandwidth. Be memorable by mastering making your point in as little time as possible vs. being the one who sucked the air out of the room. Less truly is more.
“Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.” Franklin D. Roosevelt – BRAVO, F.D.R.