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How Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and other business chiefs hold ruthlessly effective meetings

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Richard Branson preparing his conference room.
By Anna Codrea‑Rado
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Why does Jeff Bezos keep a chair empty in the boardroom? Where does Richard Branson hold his meetings? And who’s always late for appointments?

Here are some of Quartz’s favorite tips for holding meetings from the some of the world’s top business leaders:

Throw out the least necessary person in the room

Steve Jobs reportedly threw people out of meetings if he didn’t feel they added any value. The Jobsian way of running meetings, much like Apple’s core design principle, is to keep everything simple. Only absolutely essential people should be present at a meeting.

Don’t use chairs

Stanford management professor, Bob Sutton, points to research that claims meetings held without chairs are not only just as effective as sit-down meetings, they’re significantly shorter. Sutton also says that by remaining standing, you minimise the amount of time wasted holding meetings with, let’s call them, “fools.”

And if you do use chairs, keep one empty

According to Forbes, Amazon boss, Jeff Bezos, brings an empty chair to meetings to remind everyone of the omnipresence of the customer.

Take the meeting poolside

If you’re Richard Branson you have the luxury of being able to ship your staff out to a private Caribbean island, as the music-to-airlines entrepreneur suggests in his “Top 6 tips to screw business meetings as usual.” But if you’re not Branson, try to think of somewhere less exotic. Branson’s point is that getting out of the boardroom is a good way to encourage a bit of creativity.

Ban PowerPoint presentations

Another bit of advice from Branson: Kill the slide deck. At least, don’t use slides filled with text that merely reflect what you’re saying. If you need a reminder, put it on a screen in front of you. Instead, keep people’s attention with photos or short videos.

Don’t set up meetings more than a day in advance

On his blog, 37signals, Jason Fried says that investment tycoon Warren Buffett won’t schedule a meeting more than a day in advance. This way, suggests Fried, Buffett keeps his schedule “relevant instead of prescient.” Presumably this doesn’t apply to his annual shareholder meeting.

Decisions should never wait for a meeting

Shortly after Larry Page took over as Google CEO, he got it in his head that the search engine needed to go back to its roots and run more like a startup. This was especially true of meetings. The Google golden rule of meetings is that a decision should never wait for a meeting. If a meeting is vital to the decision-making process, the meeting must happen immediately.

You can get away with being late… if you’re the boss

Pretty much every standard guide to holding effective meetings will tell you to “start on time and end on time.” But Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer is apparently always late for meetings with her executives. She’ll often keep people waiting for over an hour, according to Business Insider.

Send an advance copy

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer doesn’t like boardroom surprises. Ballmer prefers team members to send through material ahead of meetings so he’s fully prepared when he walks in and can spend less time listening and more asking questions.

If you have an international meeting, don’t wear your jacket on the plane

If you’re flying in for your meeting, don’t crease up your suit by wearing your jacket on the plane, says head of Campbell Soup, Denise Morrison.

Of course, perhaps if that international meeting happens to be on Necker Island, Branson will waive the formal dress code. One can only dream.

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