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17.12.2021 Organisation & processes

How long should your meetings last? (the best length for every type!)

How long should your meetings last? (the best length for every type!)

Meetings have been increasing in length by around 10% since the year 2000. Simultaneously, our global attention span has been confirmed to be getting shorter. So, clearly, something isn’t adding up.

We’ve already established in our ‘meeting reminder’ article that most of the time your meeting could have been an email. But on the occasions where the meeting really does need to be a meeting, how long should they be?

Well, as with other meeting-related factors that really depends on the content of the meeting. Different meetings will require different lengths of time. However, one thing is for sure, the shorter the better. Around 50% of employees have cited people talking about unimportant issues for long periods as a huge factor in judging a meeting as bad.

So, if your meetings need some serious cleanup, these tips can help.

General meeting length tips

Schedule for some slack

Since we’re not robots, there’s bound to be a few minutes at the start of a meeting where we greet each other or have to wait to all get on the same page.

Scheduling this in for the first two to three minutes of a meeting will mean that the team has a chance to bond. But, it’ll also mean that the actual content of the meeting is not delayed by this inevitable chat. These minutes being set in the meeting agenda will mean that the chatter can easily be brought to a halt, without anyone feeling scolded.

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Keep meetings to (strict) 15-minute increments

One scheduling trick we try to stick to at JOIN is keeping our meetings in 15-minute increments. This means having meetings that are 15, 30 or 45 minutes in length and not letting them go on longer than that.

We also always try to give a break of 15 minutes to employees between meetings, as a chance to unwind and process the information from the previous meeting. Doing this reduces the chances of meetings overlapping, and gives the team some breathing room. 

With an already packed schedule, 73% of employees admitted to having worked on other tasks during their meetings. Keeping these gatherings shorter and in set 15-minute markers means that the employee always knows when they can return to their daily tasks.

This tip means your shortest meetings should be 15 minutes long, more regular meetings should be 30 minutes and anything in need of a longer discussion should be 45 minutes. Any shorter than 15 minutes could easily be an email and anything longer than 45 minutes may need to be split into multiple meetings.

As a bonus, nearly 100% of meeting attendees are paying attention up until the 15-minute mark, so keeping your meetings below 15 minutes will ensure that every attendee is engaged too! 

Skipping straight to the point

Most meetings will be unnecessary in length due to going over information that could have been shared beforehand. Creating a bullet-point meeting agenda and sending this out before the meeting will give people time to adequately prepare for the discussions or decisions at hand.

Cutting down on explaining a meeting’s purpose and presenting big pieces of information to the team not only saves time but also reduces the risk of information overload. This is a phenomenon where when given too much information in one go your colleagues’ ability to process and retain it, as well as reach a decision, is greatly hindered.

Meeting length tips for specific meetings

Below you’ll find the best length for your specific meeting needs.

How long should presentation/information sharing meetings be?

If your meeting contains a presentation or other additional material you should send this out beforehand with the reminder email and agenda. Requesting that participants read through the slides beforehand and prepare questions and discussion points will mean that you can cut down on the time spent actually presenting.

This is especially important given that people begin to check out of a PowerPoint presentation after about 10 minutes. Gathering your best talent in a room for an hour, only to have them daydreaming for most of it is a huge cost to your business.

That’s why 30-minute presentation meetings make sense. This gives you 10 minutes to present your information to the team and 15 minutes to discuss their thoughts after.

How long should decision-making meetings be?

This length, of course, depends on the decision that needs to be made. However, as a general rule, you should try not to have a meeting that lasts more than 45 minutes. Any longer than 45 minutes and you will lose the attention of around 40% of your attendees completely.

Alongside this, it will greatly complicate the decision-making process. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time assigned to it. It is a good idea to keep that in mind, as well as the fact that our brains are wired to pay more attention to the first things we hear (also known as the anchoring bias.) That’s why dragging these meetings out for longer than they need to be could actually be detrimental to the decision.

Of course, for bigger decisions that require input from various departments all over the business, these may naturally take longer. In this case, setting up multiple shorter meetings with different departments and collating the information with whoever signs the decision off would make more sense than having one longer meeting with everyone present.

This is evident when using the meeting cost calculator to visualise the total cost of long meetings with lots of participants.

How long should brainstorming meetings be?

Generally, 45 minutes is the sweet spot for brainstorming meetings as it gives everyone time to discuss ideas without getting fatigued from the amount of information they’re taking in.

However, this differs depending on the number of participants in the meeting. If everyone has prepared information and ideas to share, the meeting agenda should have at least 5 minutes pencilled in for each person to briefly talk through their ideas with extra time for questions and discussion. This means that the length of the meeting could exceed or fall short of 45 minutes.

The meeting should never be longer than an hour though, as by this point the focus will be lost. If your meetings are coming up longer than an hour, you may need to think about who you are inviting to your meeting and if the attendee list can be shortened.

How long should update meetings be?

Whether it is a morning stand-up or a critical piece of information about the company, update meetings usually shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. Any longer than this and you risk Parkinson’s Law, as well as disrupting the workflow of people who cannot further contribute to the discussion.

Practise makes perfect

As with all of our previous meeting rules, implementing these new meeting timings will require practice. There’s always the chance that you may find your presentation meetings take 15 minutes while your updates take 30 minutes. If this is the way that works for you, don’t feel the need to cram it into a schedule that just isn’t working.

Do you want to learn more about improving your meetings? Then have a look through our other meeting tips to see if this can help you optimise your meeting experiences further!

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