Five-minute read

5 Ways to Leverage Behavioral Psychology for More Efficient Meetings

Photographer Credit: Shivendu Shukla
Written by
Rachel Wright
Published on
26 June 2023

When we think of gatherings at work, we tend to focus on the fun stuff: the team events, office offsites, and holidays parties. We forget about the more pedestrian gatherings that for many people make up the workday: meetings. 

Insights from Dialpad, a San Francisco-based tech company focusing on call technology, indicate that in 2021 most people spent up to a third of their time on the clock in a meeting. 

But is it time well spent?  

The research says (maybe) no. In their 2019 State of Meetings Report, Doodle uncovered some troubling insights. Do any of these resonate with you? 

  • Professionals in the UK, Germany, and the United States reported spending up to two hours per week in ‘pointless meetings’ - that’s 13 days a year. 
  • Cumulatively, 24bn hours will be lost to pointless meetings in the next year.
  • More than a third (37%) of professionals consider unnecessary meetings to be the biggest cost to their organization. 
  • Reflecting on how pointless meetings derail work, 26% said poorly planned meetings impacted their client relationships, 43% said they created confusion, and 44% said they got in the way of work getting done. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. 

Here are 5 ways you can leverage behavioral psychology to make the next meetings you organize more effective and efficient. 


In their book ‘Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness,’ Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein define a nudge as ‘any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.’

In other words: a nudge pushes people to choose a specific option - every time - while still giving them the feeling of having choices. 

Everyday, we’re nudged by our environments in many ways - sometimes to our benefit, sometimes to our detriment. 

For example, an ‘opt-out’ can make you more likely to be an organ donor and signing up for a future automatic increase can help you save more for retirement. 

Likewise, price bundling at your local cafe might nudge you towards a daily croissant habit and clever website UI might push you to buy more than you should. 

The good news is that anyone can leverage nudges. By working a few into your next meeting, you can nudge people to show up better prepared, make sure you stay on track, and trigger action after the meeting ends.  

Nudges need touchpoints. Luckily meetings have two that work for most nudging: 

  • The meeting invite
  • The slides you show at the meeting 

Not only is leveraging them easy, you only have to set them up once (and can then easily share them with your team to get everyone on board!). 

To nudge preparation

Use the meeting invite to set an agenda. 

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “By failing to plan, you’re preparing to fail.” The same goes for productive meetings: without a plan of what you want to accomplish, you’re unlikely to leave with what you want. 

Unsurprisingly, Booqued found that most working people tend to agree:

  • 72% of professionals believe that setting clear objectives is what makes a meeting successful.
  • 67% believe that it's having a clear agenda.

But just because we know something is good for us doesn’t mean we’ll do it: 63% of meetings don’t have a set agenda and 37% of meetings don’t have a plan at all

Nudge preparation for your next meeting by sending out an agenda a couple of days before the meeting. Include your objectives for each agenda point so that participants know how to prepare. 

Do you think participants need to know something specific about the topic to contribute? 

Attach materials to invite and label them ‘Pre-Reads’ so that everyone shows up on the same page. 

To nudge efficiency 

Include time allotments in the agenda and repeat them on the slides. 

The next worst thing to a meeting with no agenda? 

A meeting with an agenda that isn’t followed.  

Keep things moving along by adding time allotments to each agenda item. This also helps you see if your agenda is realistic before the meeting starts. From there, either use a stopwatch yourself or ask another participant to keep track of time. 

To nudge action

Include a ‘next steps’ slide at the end of each section. 

This reminds you to pause before moving on, recap the discussion points, and reflect on what should happen next. The bonus here is that you can use this content for your recap at the end of the meeting, saving you time and helping your team stay aligned. 


Priming says that exposure to a stimulus - like a picture, word, or sound - can impact the response without us being aware of the connection. Some common, everyday ways we’re primed to behaved differently include

  • Power posing, which has been scientifically proven to make us feel more confident
  • Smiling sends the message to your brain which triggers feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. 
  • Repetition primes us to see something as more important. 

Priming starts with a stimulus. The title you give your meeting can be a great prime that triggers the kind of behavior you’re looking for. 

Based on what you’re looking for, pair the title accordingly. For example: 

  • If you’re looking to align on a topic, call it a Synch and attach your project plan as a pre-read. 
  • If you’re looking for feedback, call it a Sounding Board and provide a pre-read with questions. 
  • If you’re looking for a decision, call it a Decision Making Session and include a one-page with your proposal. 
  • If you’re looking for ideas, call it a Brainstorming Session and let everyone know how you see they’re perspective adding. 

Your meeting deck can also be a great place to prime. Consider how the following inputs might make you show up differently in a meeting: 

  • An inspirational quote from Steve Jobs
  • A 20 second clip of your CEO speaking from your last strategy session 
  • A bar graph of last quarter’s sales

Be intentional with what you use. Think about your purpose and what kind of behavior would help you deliver on that purpose. From there, think of small ways to prime the group.  


Framing refers to how we react differently depending on whether something is presented positively or negatively - even if it’s the same thing. 

Many tech companies use framing when communicating their remote work policy. 

Consider how you feel about the following options:

  • Being told you have the option of working from home two days a week. 
  • Being told you need to come to the office three times a week. 

In the end, the outcome is the same. But it’s likely you feel more positive about the first, even though it implies the second. 

When it comes to your meeting, paying attention to framing can be helpful if you’re looking to secure buy-in from stakeholders or if you want to get others excited about collaborating on your topic. 

Leverage it by taking a step back from your topic and assessing if you’ve framed it in a negative light. This might be the case if your focus is on: 

  • What you’ll lose (instead of what you stand to gain) 
  • What team members have to do (instead of what they have the option of doing) 
  • Limited resources (instead of the new ways of problem solving limitations can unlock) 


Anchoring refers to our tendency to use the first piece of information we get to make decisions. This cognitive bias is often used in pricing. Consider, for example, a clothing store that displays their most expensive item first on their website. The items after that suddenly seem a lot more reasonable. 

This bias can also be leveraged to steer decision making in meetings. Here are a few ways to use it: 

Ensure that company values guide decision making 

To do this, start the meeting by presenting the company value(s) you want to guide your decisions. Create a slide with the wording as a reminder and, if you can, tell a short story about the impact the value could have on the quality of your decision making. 

Drive less biased decision making

I was once involved in performance management reviews at a large tech company where we started the meetings by reviewing key cognitive biases. We spoke about group think, the ‘mini me’ bias, and others before members made performance and promotion decisions. More than once I heard committee members refer back to the biases to challenge others in the meetings. 

While it’s unlikely you can completely negate biases in decision making, raising awareness by using the slides as an anchor helps you move in that direction. 

To set more ambitious targets 

In 1954, Roger Bannister achieved what no one before him had: he ran a mile in under four minutes. What everyone thought was impossible had been achieved. 

What’s more impressive is what came just 46 days later, though: John Landy, an Australian runner, broke the barrier again and beat Bannister’s time by doing it in 3 minutes 58 seconds. A year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. 

The point is, we subconsciously anchor our expectations around what has already been achieved. If you think your team isn’t setting the bar high enough, starting with a case study of what has been achieved by another team in your organization or by a competitor could be a good place to start the meeting. 


The action bias describes how we tend to choose action over inaction. 

The thing is, the choice that makes us feel good isn’t always the most effective course. 

Consider your last team retro, for example. If your experience was anything like mine, it’s likely you ended with a long list of possible action items and a good measure of energy to tackle them all. 

Being aware of our action bias, you can choose to leverage it or tame it at the end of the meeting. Here’s how this looks: 

Leverage it

If you’d like to steer towards action, create time at the end of the meeting to talk about next steps. Remind your group about the objective and the possible impact action could have. Together, define high-impact actions and use an Action Priority Matrix to define which one(s) to start with. 

Tame it  

Retros and team offsites are often all about action and often end with long lists of items. Here, you want to tame the desire to do everything all at once. First, make sure you record all the items. It’s reassuring to know you’ll be able to return to them. Next, use the Action Priority Matrix to pick 1-2 to start with. Lastly, set up a follow up meeting to check progress or completion of the action items and to decide which ones from the list should be tackled next.