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Why We Need Better Meeting Breaks

By Garrett Spence   |    October 28, 2014   |    10:58 AM

How Giving Meeting Attendees More Breaks Makes Them More Productive

In order to be effective, meeting attendees must be engaged and participating. Yet, many meetings are set up to do just the opposite. Meeting planners try to pack as much as possible within a few hours or a couple of days, especially at off-site meetings.

Dragging attendees through endless hours of meetings, however, may not be the most effective way to get tasks accomplished. According to studies, the average person can only “pay attention in a meeting for approximately 20 minutes before becoming fidgety, starting to daydream or working other projects.” Further, after 90 minutes, meeting organizers will “start to notice a marked deterioration in attention and participation.”

Why Breaks Are Necessary

Allowing people to take breaks every 30 to 45 minutes is a highly effective use of time. People need time to digest the information that they were given, and this is usually done via quiet time or even just having a mental shift. The best way to do this is to actually give people some break time.

Specialists in the field of meeting education and planning recommend scheduling in 10 to 15 minute breaks during sessions. These breaks give attendees time to run to the restroom, get refreshments or food, take a walk or catch up on phone calls. 

Some people even recommend chopping up long sessions into multiple sessions. For example, let’s say a company schedules a four-hour long meeting. It might actually be a better idea to break this single conference up into an hour or hour and half set of meetings spread out throughout the day or week.

How to Effectively Use Breaks

Just because there’s not a speaker talking and people are off doing their own thing for a few minutes doesn’t mean that the time is being wasted. Actually, meeting breaks often give participants occasions to ask speakers questions that don’t need to be addressed to the larger group. Others may go off into smaller groups and discuss questions or concerns that they have. They may even brainstorm ideas related to the problem presented.

Breaks also provide attendees time to catch-up on needed work. If a person has been in a meeting all day, their mind may have started wandering off on what he needs to do after the meeting or whose phone call needs to be returned. Allowing the meeting attendees even a few minutes to get some needed tasks done can make them more attentive for the rest of the allotted time.

Additionally, many people can’t think or even pay attention when they’re hungry or tired. Giving them time to get some caffeine and food will make them less irritable and better able to concentrate.

Finally, a short breather also gives meeting leaders time to refocus the meeting. Oftentimes, meetings will go off-track because attendees are going off-topic. A 10-minute break will give the meeting leader time to redirect the discussion back to the pertinent topic.

Breaks are not wastes of time. In fact, they’re a necessary part of the meeting schedule. Always schedule breaks into the agenda for both the presenters and the attendees.