Marc Sparks: Meetings Don’t Have to Suck

May 29

Marc Sparks: Meetings Don’t Have to Suck

Marc Sparks is an entrepreneur who has been involved in more than sixty start-ups since the Seventies. He is also the founder, owner, and CEO of Timber Creek Capital, a private equity firm. The following is an excerpt from his upcoming book, titled They Can’t Eat You.

Having sat in tens of thousands of meetings, I am somewhat of an expert as to how to conduct productive meetings and eliminate large wastes of time. Here are a few tried–and-true tips for conducting a quality meeting.

Know Your Purpose
You must identify the very purpose of your meeting. There are dozens of legit reasons to call a meeting: project status reports, brainstorming, strategic planning, etc., etc. The key to a successful meeting is to pick ONE reason you are having the meeting and FOCUS. The biggest mistake most people make is trying to cover too much ground in a single meeting. I’d rather have three focused and productive meetings than a typical unfocused, schizophrenic meeting.

Publish Your Purpose
Send the agenda out ahead of time so people know what to expect in the meeting. People love to be able to think about the meat of the meeting and this gives them a heads-up versus a few seconds to try to respond to the topic of the meeting.

Meet Like There Is No Tomorrow
If you knew the world was ending tomorrow and you had to have a meeting today, you wouldn’t waste any time, would you? You’d watch both the agenda and the time. Unless you’re having a free flowing, blue-sky brainstorming session, most meetings should be short, sweet and always, always, always start and end on time.

Be an Action Hero!
A meeting without action is ___________.

What word(s) did you use to fill in the blank? Boring? Typical? Frustrating? A waste of time? Every meeting should end with a review of action items. The best approach is to write down the action items as the meeting progresses, along with the deadline and the name of the primary person who is responsible for each action item.

Always Repeat Yourself
One person in the meeting must be held accountable to document those action items, along the responsible parties and deadlines for those action items. An EMAIL summary should be sent to everyone who attended the meeting.

Delegate Responsibilities
Once you’ve set the action steps, you need to delegate the responsibility of completing each specific item to someone you can hold accountable. This person is your general in charge of getting things done. I always pick a lieutenant to work as a secondary responsible party to help keep my primary person focused and moving. It is always better to have two good people working together. As the old saying goes, “two heads are better than one.” Having a plan and a deadline for every deliverable will ensure that person understands what their role is in completing the task at hand. Having a to-do list with deliverable dates is crucial to the success of any project. If everyone is following the same list, they are always going to be moving in the same direction. Think of it this way: if you have a massive oil tanker sailing between the United States and China, and you remove the rudder, the ship will start spinning around in the ocean. It becomes directionless and very dangerous.

Set a Due Date and Due TIME for Each Deliverable!
Remember, a goal without a deadline is only a dream! I am really big on setting unusual times and dates for deliverables because it gets the attention of the people involved. For example, I might ask to see the finished brochure on Friday at 10:42 a.m. These odd times create a sense of urgency that just isn’t there when you say a standard time, such as Friday by 5 p.m. “Friday at 5 p.m.” implies that “Monday is fine” too. My tactic may seem unusual—but believe me, it is highly effective.

For six years we conducted a three-day event in Dallas for several thousand of our Wizetrade customers. We always listed odd times in the agenda for when sessions would begin or end (e.g., “Breakout Session X starts at 10:32”). This always generated an insane amount of buzz! I remember people coming up to our management team saying, “This is so cool…what’s up with the strange times?” Obviously we did this to create an impression, but we also did it to create a sense of “Got to be there at 10:32 or it will start without me.”

Conversely, you don’t want to say you’re going to deliver something on a certain date or by a specific time and then fail to do it. When you don’t follow through, you inadvertently send a message that “failing to deliver on time is acceptable.” If you say you’re going to do something, then you have to do it or pay the price for missing the deadline.

Admittedly, I am an over-observant, multitasking, habitual, and somewhat cynical person. I firmly believe that performance is everything, and doing what you say you are going to do matters most. It may sound simple, but most people don’t get it. Sooner or later, you are going to have to step up and perform. Think of that tight performance schedule as a winner’s challenge and an opportunity to shine.

Read more about Marc Sparks’ business insights at and his thoughts on life at

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