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Facilitating a Meeting? Follow the 10% Rule

Updated: May 23, 2022

How many times have you sat in a meeting and been talked AT the entire time? Have you ever completely zoned out because no one else is paying attention?

Not-so-fun facts:

70% of all meetings are a waste of time!

65% of all employees believe meetings are a distraction from being able to do their job!

These aren't good numbers.

So WHY do most of us feel like meetings are a waste?

Consider: how many of us have ever received meeting facilitation training? Probably not many of us. The largest issue with meetings stems from the timeless belief that leaders need to use that time to share information--a mindset that is ancient and fundamentally incorrect.

Technology relieves us from needing meetings to share information. We have emails, newsletters, memos, daily reports, text messages, quarterly reports, etc. that allow us to communicate a universal message without needing to be in front of a live audience. These platforms are where information should be shared.


Meetings are for getting things done. For collecting everyone's feedback and perspectives. And for ensuring we're all on the same page. That starts by following the 10% rule.

Several years ago, I was leading a volunteer group responsible for carrying out Milwaukee's first-ever "Military Veterans Ball". Eight years later and this initially small event has become a staple of Milwaukee's "Veterans Week". But I didn't get us started on the right foot.

In fact, I screwed up that initial meeting. I spent most of the hour-long session explaining what we intended to do, why we were putting on the event, and how we planned to do it. This information was, in my mind, REALLY important to share. I mean, I wanted everyone on the same page, right? Plus, I was really excited and wanted to make sure we didn't screw this up!

I spoke so much during the first meeting that no one else had the opportunity to get in anything. 45 minutes into the session, I had only allowed time for introductions and subsequently spent the next 40 minutes rambling away. I noticed drooping and wandering eyes as we were beginning to conclude. I could feel the lack of energy from attendees. I recognized I messed up and vowed to never make that mistake again.

From that day forward, I have deployed the 10% rule for every meeting I facilitate. The rule? Never talk more than 10% of the total meeting time. Instead, I've committed to providing information ahead of time that prepares attendees to be able to participate once meetings are underway. Prior to the meeting, I set out a list of agenda items and required discussion points. I'm intentional about those discussion points and attentive toward giving everyone a chance to speak. In fact, I've learned it’s often the quietest person at the table who has the most valuable insight to share.

"It’s the quietest person at the table

who has the most valuable insight."

I also learned to become comfortable with silence. Especially when engaged in a thoughtful conversation, allowing time for reflection is crucial toward making good decisions.

Proper allocation of my allotted 10% speaking time includes four components:

One—I introduce the issue and various perspectives.

Two—I ask questions.

Three—I ask for more questions and comments.

Four—I debrief discussions and reiterate any decisions that were made.

That's it. I refuse to talk more than 10% of the meeting time. My impact on the conversation actually DECREASES if I go for more than that.

So what has happened since? Well, I've never felt threatened by not talking enough, and I've learned that the highest level of buy-in and engagement for any project occurs when everyone is involved in guiding the process forward. People want to feel PART of the meeting; not like they are simply passive information receivers. By holding myself to the 10% rule, 90% of the time is left for everyone else--regardless of group size--to engage.

I no longer see droopy eyes; instead, I'm part of high-energy conversations that allow us, as employees and colleagues, to identify the most advantageous paths forward. Let me know how the 10% rule works for you.

We're in this together.

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