Oscar-winner Sir Michael Caine, one of Britain's best-loved actors, was once asked what he thought was the secret behind great comedy. His well-known response was to ask the interviewer to repeat the question, but before the interviewer had finished, Caine interrupted with his answer: "timing."
Timing is equally important to effective meetings. Herewith are some suggestions from psychology that could improve the effectiveness of business meetings and events.
1. Try Tuesday
Research conducted by international staffing agency Accountemps has consistently shown that Tuesday is the most productive day of the workweek. Interestingly, though, 39 percent of HR managers considered Tuesday the best day for staff productivity in 2013. That figure was 57 percent in 2007.
2. Meet at 10 a.m. or 3 p.m.
A study by online scheduling service When is Good found that 3 p.m. on a Tuesday is the best time to arrange a meeting if you want to maximize attendance. (Perhaps this works because it's a while after the post-lunch energy slump but not late enough for attendees to think the meeting might overrun the workday.) However, the Accountemps research suggested 10 a.m. is best, so take your pick.
3. Can you wait until next year?
The Tuesday immediately after the New Year was highlighted as potentially especially productive, per Accountemps research. I'm aware that not many meetings can be postponed for the best part of a year, though!
4. Start at odd times
No one has ever been able to give me a decent answer as to why meetings start on the hour and often last an hour. If you are fixated on 60 minutes, how about trying to highlight the value of each minute by scheduling the start for 10:04 and the finish as 11:04?
5. Schedule less time
Anecdotal evidence suggest that we use as much time to complete a task as we are given. (Do you recall handing essays minutes before deadline at school?) So, how about simply halving the time of the meetings you hold in your office next week and seeing the result? You might find that people are more focused and you get just as much done.
6. Change the stimulus
We might all have had experience proving that "time flies when we're having fun," but psychology supports it, too. Research published in Current Biology ("Observers Exploit Stochastic Models of Sensory Change to Help Judge the Passage of Time"; Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 3, January 20, 2011) suggests that unstimulated people actually report less time passing over a set period as opposed to people who are enjoying themselves. So, if you want to avoid attendees feeling that the meetings is dragging forever, stimulate them!
7. Remove the chairs
Finally, research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology ("The effects of stand-up and sit-down meeting formats on meeting outcomes"; Bluedorn, Allen C.; Turban, Daniel B.; Love, Mary Sue; Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 84(2), April 1999) looked at how standing vs. sitting affected a meeting's duration. Interestingly, standing meetings were 34 percent shorter -- and were considered to have delivered a similar standard of decisions.
Jonathan Bradshaw is CEO of The Meetology Group; read his blog at meetology.com/blog.