Editors at Work: Having the Right Kind of Meetings

By Jack Limpert

A mid-level executive complained to me yesterday about the hour-long meetings of 15 or 20 people she’s often forced to sit through where a top executive does most of the talking. As an editor, I pulled together lots of meetings. Here’s what I told her I had learned:

Small is best. I had lots of one-on-one meetings but to come up with good ideas I found meetings of three, four, or five were best. The virtue of having four or five was it allowed a mix of staff to take part. Pull together two or three top people and several mid-level and lower-level people. It brings in fresh perspectives and helps identify talent: That kid working as a fact-checker is really smart.

In bigger meetings I found that the smartest people often didn’t say much. I like to think it’s because the smartest people tend to be good listeners and don’t feel the need to show how smart they are.

At meetings of top editors from the American Society of Magazine Editors and the City and Regional Magazine Association, that held true: The most successful editors weren’t the big talkers—they came and went. The editors who were most successful and lasted the longest were smart and articulate but also very good listeners.
I once mentioned this preference for small meetings to another editor, who responded by saying such small meetings are similar to a menage-a-trois–or so, he said, he’s been told.
The one rule I had at editorial meetings was there are no bad ideas. Sometimes someone would toss out an off-the-wall idea and if someone then said something like “That’s a really dumb idea” I’d let them know later that there are no dumb ideas in editorial idea meetings.

Some ideas work, some don’t, and you want staff to feel free to toss out anything creative without being put down.


  1. John Corcoran says

    I agree with your comments about the limited number of attendees at meetings, especially those held in watering holes where the liquid intake helped set free the ideas..

    Good times, good company–and frequently good suggestions.

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