How to Have a Meaningful Business Meeting in 20 Minutes

Posted: 08/06/2011


I’m sure we have all been in business meetings that have lasted way too long.  Personally I’ve been in some that have lasted over 6 hours, and I’m sure some of you could easily beat that number.  On the other end of the spectrum we have the 20 minute meetings that take place during RVAA.  Although 20 minutes seems very short and 6+ hours seem very long, the real measure of any meeting is “did we get done what we needed to do”?

In a meeting that is set to last for several hours there are likely a number heady topics and important objectives.  The first key to making a twenty minute meeting successful is to have a realistic expectation of what is to be accomplished.  Trying to push 2-3 hours’ worth of topics in to a micro meeting is a recipe for failure.  So the RVAA meetings may not be the best place to set out the entire next year’s marketing campaign (complete with catalog layout, new product introductions and strategic planning, etc., etc.).  So our first question is:

What to include in an RVAA Conference meeting?

Most of us know each other very well by now.  Often the first part of the meeting in consumed with the pleasantries of seeing an old friend (“How is the family”, “Did you sell that old truck”, “How ‘bout those Braves”).  If we aren’t careful we take up 25% of our meeting with those pleasantries (remembering that 25% is only 5 minutes).  Relationships are important, so we need the pleasantries, but maybe we can handle a lot of that in the Tuesday reception.  Then our pleasantries during the meeting (which are important) can be brief.

Obviously there is no perfect list of what to include in the actual meeting.  However it does seem that after the brief pleasantries it’s smart to move right in to the business part of the meeting.  Typically we like to think that this is a 10 for the supplier / 10 minutes for the distributor, but it never works that way.  It is vital that we make that our goal out of respect to both parties.  A supplier that dominates the conversation could be shortchanging the discussion as the distributor may have some great input that they have planned to share.  Of course the reverse is also true.

In picking topics take a look at all the items you would like to discuss and ask yourself “what one or two items are most important to growing our mutual business in the next twelve months.  Considering that a 20 minute meeting is 10 minutes for you and 10 for your counterpart, choosing one topic provides 10 minutes of discussion and 2 allows only 5 minutes of discussion.  If you think the topics require more than that, or if there are more than 2 mission critical items that must be discussed, it is wise to opt for a double session (allowing 50 minutes of conversation or 25 minutes each).

Often we begin the meeting with a “how’s business” session.  This usually makes for an appropriate beginning because we need to know where we are before we can know where we are going.  If this is a mission critical topic you should include it, but realize that it can take up a huge piece of a 20 minute meeting.  Again, you have limited time, so only talk about the most important things to growing your business.

New Members

Some new members are not new to the industry.  We know each other, we’ve been doing business for years, its just that one or the other has not been part of RVAA (welcome aboard).  These meetings would really be like meeting with an established member.  For those guys the outline above is very appropriate.

What was just mentioned can be thrown completely out the window when it comes to companies that are completely new to the industry.  In those cases the relationships have not been formed and we need to get to know one another.  We don’t know their products and we need a presentation.  In those meetings it is usually best for the established member to sit back and allow the new member to make a presentation.  There is nothing wrong with the established member sharing information during this meeting, but the emphasis should be on the new member.  Even if that means the new member takes up the entire time.


The best of meetings are completely worthless if there is no follow-up.  Be sure to make notes during the meeting and assign someone in the meeting to send a recap to all members.  When you receive the recap, be sure to compare with your notes and make edits.  Once everyone agrees to the follow-up actions be sure you take the lead by meeting your obligation.  Whether it is a 20 minute meeting or an 8 hour one, if there is no follow-up it was a complete waste of time.

So, what can you accomplish in a 20 minute meeting?  Obviously it depends on whether you go in to the meeting with a plan and how well you execute the plan.  If you spend 25% or more of the meeting time exchanging pleasantries it will be more difficult to accomplish your goals.  If you use the time to discuss topics of a strategic, mission critical nature you increase your odds of having a successful meeting.  If you take diligent notes and have tenacious follow-up you can take a short meeting and let it have an impact on your business that may last for years.

I look forward to meeting with you in Huntington Beach.

Raymond Padgett, C.P.M.
NTP Distribution - A Division of Keystone Automotive Operations, Inc.