How Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson Run Efficient Meetings

Bryan Adams

Insight from the best business brains to make your meetings more productive.

Trying to run a business is all-consuming. Time gets sucked up by so many different things - staff, suppliers, finance, production - the list goes on. But, above all, its meetings that seem to take up so much precious time, and yet so often seem to achieve very little.

Everyone has their own idea about what makes a good meeting, so I decided to research how some of the best CEO's out there go about it. Whilst their approach may vary, there's definitely some common ground that we can all learn from to make meetings super-productive and keep teams motivated and focused. Follow these tips and make 2018 the year you actually look forward to meetings.

1. Keep the guest list small.

Too many cooks spoil the broth, as the saying goes. But is there an optimum number of attendees to make sure a meeting is worthwhile? Jeff Bezos has his famous "two pizza rule" that limits attendees to only the number of people that can be fed by two large pizzas, so he has no more than eight mouths to feed around the table. Over at Google, Larry Page wants no more than ten people in the meeting room. I keep the numbers of people involved in meetings small because that means more focus, more chance of consensus, and shorter meetings.

2. Keep the outcome in mind.

At Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg sticks by two practices with meetings. Firstly, he asks employees to send materials in advance so that meeting time can be used for discussion. Secondly, before a meeting takes place, a clear goal is created. Facebook meetings start with the question "are we in the room to make a decision or to have a discussion?"

Even in 2018 you're bound to be invited to meetings that are set up without an outcome in mind. Just say no. A desired outcome for the meeting sets the structure and purpose of having it. Sitting in meetings with no clear reason as to why it is being held is a thing of the past. Having an outcome promotes an efficient meeting; it is the starting point of the discussion and avoids straying off-topic.

3. Keep everything simple.

As with Page and Bezos, Steve Jobs also believed in keeping the numbers attending a meeting small, containing only those absolutely necessary to be there and with someone taking ownership. But he also hated too much structure and especially disliked the use of PowerPoint. He liked meetings to flow and not be stifled by the delivery of a presentation.

In my business we only use PowerPoint for keynote speaking engagements at conferences, client pitches or full team meetings. It's just too distracting and cumbersome to be necessary in a small internal gathering. The right people in the room should be able to articulate the topic under discussion and deliver an outcome without presentations getting in the way. Especially with the inevitable IT issues that always seem to crop up before the meeting can get started.

4. Keep everyone informed.

Jeff Bezos requires employees to be prepared and prefers that a 4 page memo is drafted before the meeting. I make sure everyone attending meeting in my business has a clear understanding of the agenda and the areas that are to be discussed. By receiving this information all attendees will know why conducting this meeting concerns them, it will encourage them to prepare for it, and they'll have a clear goal of their own in mind. This will ultimately assist in achieving the outcome together.

5. Keep everyone involved.

Steve Jobs made everyone in the meeting a Directly Responsible Individual with a task to deliver to ensure the meeting outcomes were achieved. Giving everyone at the meeting a role and responsibility is great practice, and serves two purposes. It helps confirm everyone's place at the meeting and that they do need to be there. Secondly, each attendee being given a role means they should voice an opinion and encourages debate. There's no confusion about what is required and my team is clear about what needs to be done.

6. Keep everything fresh.

There's no rule that a meeting needs to take place in an office, with everyone sat around a table. That's especially true in 2018 when Skype, Face Time and conferencing calling are so prevalent. Richard Branson does his meetings standing up, or on the move. He loves walking meetings where ideas and decisions happen quickly and instinctively. Standing meetings are said to greatly reduce the overall time of the meeting and improve the concentration of those attending. In my business we've made sure to have a selection of meeting spaces across the office, from soundproof booths to wide open communal areas. Experiment and see what works best for you and your team.