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How long should your kickoff meeting be? Planning for efficiency and engagement
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How long should your kickoff meeting be? Planning for efficiency and engagement

Find out how long a kickoff meeting should last—and how to structure it for greater engagement and efficiency.

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Picture this: your project team is gathered for an hour-long kickoff meeting but the energy is low and you’re struggling to get through everything on the agenda. You can sense people disengaging and some even seem to be doing things in another tab rather than paying attention. 

Now, imagine the same meeting but with your team focused, alert, and pitching in with useful ideas. Everyone’s so focused on the meeting, you even need to remind them to take a break. 

This meeting also lasted one hour. So what made the difference?

Effective meetings aren’t about duration: it’s what you do with the time that counts. That’s why you need to know how to structure your project kickoff meeting to make the best use of everyone’s time. You also need to think outside the scheduling box and do more before the meeting to make it more efficient.

In this post, we’ll discuss, generally, how long a kickoff meeting should last, as well as give tips to make it as efficient–and short–as possible.

Do more in meetings—and in between them. 
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How long should a project kick-off meeting be? 

How long a project kickoff meeting should be varies greatly depending on the project's nature and complexity. Also, the number of stakeholders involved and what you need to discuss in the meeting. Jordan Hirsch, CEO, Lead Trainer & Coach, FishTree, also notes it depends on whether people have worked together in this way before, since “What you're really doing behind the scenes is a lot of trust building."

For example, developing a new operating system from scratch in collaboration with an external team could be more complex than developing a mobile app feature internally. That means the kickoff meeting for the first project is likely to be longer. 

A good rule of thumb is to plan for 1-2 hours, though Hirsch says it can be longer: “Two hours can be a lot, depending on what you have to cover. Sometimes you need half a day; sometimes a whole day if it's huge and complex.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how to make your meeting as efficient–and short–as possible. 

9 ways to run a more efficient kickoff meeting 

The better planned your kickoff meeting is, the shorter it can be. That takes planning, preparation, and expert facilitation. Let’s take a look at how to run more effective meetings.  

1. Prioritize what needs to be covered   

To determine meeting duration, first think about what you need to share and debate. This allows you to estimate how long you’ll need. 

Ask yourself, what do you want people to know, understand, or be aware of? How do you want them to feel? What doubts and concerns might your team have and how can you address them? 

Addressing these questions upfront helps you shape the meeting's agenda, figure out how long to allow for each section, and keep it focused to prevent time-consuming tangents.

Pro tip: Create a dedicated Switchboard room for your project and invite people to submit their questions using the open questions feature, so you can anticipate and prepare for them.   
Switchboard menu with room names.
Switchboard makes it easy to keep everything–and everyone–organized by project in dedicated rooms.

2. Think about the meeting agenda and structure 

A well-structured agenda lets you cover all essential topics without overwhelming attendees. Once you know what you need to cover, you can create a project kickoff meeting agenda with key information, discussions, and decisions prioritized by order of importance and timeboxed to keep it tight.  

An example structure might be:

  • Introduction (5-10 minutes)
  • Project background (5 minutes)
  • Project scope (5-10 minutes)
  • Project plan (10 minutes)
  • Roles and responsibilities (5 minutes)
  • Challenges and risks (10 minutes) 
  • Communication and tools (5 minutes)
  • Questions (10 minutes)
  • Action items and next steps (5 minutes)

At this point, you should also decide who’s responsible for each item. For example, you might ask the project leader to open the meeting by making the introductions. Note that, while this example provides a solid baseline, you should adapt time slots based on the specific needs and complexities of your project. This ensures each key area gets the attention it deserves.

Pro tip: Share your draft agenda in your Switchboard room before the meeting and invite clients and team members to vote on items with the voting app. They can also start a comment thread anywhere on the document to suggest additional items. 

Getting input in this way boosts buy-in and ownership of agenda topics, lets you prepare for new ones, and meet client expectations. 
Meeting agenda and voting question in Switchboard.
Open any file in your Switchboard room with a simple copy-paste before setting up a poll.

3. Think about who needs to be there for what 

Next, curate a list of stakeholders who need to be included in the meeting. This might include team members, senior management, and your client or project sponsor. 

Don’t fall into the trap of inviting everyone you can think of, though. Too many people who aren’t directly involved in the project or affected by agenda items can lead to discussions getting sidetracked and the meeting overrunning. 

To avoid this, define specific roles and contributions expected from each attendee. This helps ensure their presence adds value to the meeting and avoids an over-crowded meeting with unfocused discussions.

Then, think about how to structure the agenda for efficiency and engagement. Hirsch recommends using a “funnel-shaped” agenda. This starts with group topics that everyone needs to know and letting people leave once the meeting becomes less relevant for them. For example, you might start with project background and scope and then dismiss senior leadership before you get to the technical parts, so those discussions stay more focused.  

“The project goal is the one thing everybody should be there for” says Hirsch, “Too often, we tend to leave engineers out of that part. Like, ‘They're just going to build it.” But these are the people who are going to tell you things you should know, like tradeoffs later on. So the whole team should be brought in and present for that part." 

You can split into breakout rooms to run a more effective kickoff meeting. Hirsch says, "I've done kickoffs that were a whole day, where some sections were with different teams. Like, ‘You take the engineers, do a deep dive into the database structure. We'll go over here with the CMO and talk about the marketing plan.” 

4. Do more before the meeting 

The more you do before the meeting, the more efficient and, therefore, shorter you can make it. Here’s how:

  • Gather, review, and share important documents in advance: These might include the project charter and plan, workbreakdown structure (WBS), contracts, statement of work (SOW), or communication plan. The aim is for you and your team to know as much as possible about what your bosses or clients want before you get in a room. 
  • Clarify meeting outcomes and set expectations: When people know what’s expected of them it builds alignment and helps keep the meeting on track and on time.   
  • Check presenters know how to use the tech: Uploading slides in advance and giving people a walkthrough saves a ton of wasted time watching people painfully fumble with the controls.
Pro tip: Share project documents in your Switchboard room so everyone can get up to speed beforehand and you can get straight down to productive discussions when you meet—no more one-way readouts. 

You can also share and explore any app, file, or document in the room side by side without sharing screens and use the presentation feature to focus attention on what you’re focused on sharing. 
Switchboard room with documents and notes.
Switchboard saves your work, so you can share materials before the call.

5. Have a facilitator  

Having a facilitator, note taker, or timekeeper helps keep discussions focused and, therefore, as short as possible. It’s their job to gently steer the conversation back on track if it veers off, placing important ad hoc items in a parking lot or taking meeting notes to schedule a follow up meeting. 

If it’s an option, try having different team members facilitate parts of the meeting. Rotating leadership keeps people on their toes and teaches them how to be a better participant themselves. Note, however, that they should ideally have a deep understanding of the discussion topics. This puts them in a better position to guide the conversation effectively and keep it focused. For example, you could ask the engineering team leader to lead the discussion about challenges and risks, drawing on their experience of previous similar projects. 

6. Keep the energy high 

A snappy pace and a mix of activities make for better project meetings. Also, the nature of a project kickoff means it should be more of a workshop than a one-way information dump. 

To make team meetings more engaging, limit information sharing during the meeting to that which requires a discussion. Also, use a mix of activities and presentations and make the latter as interactive as possible. Activities might include writing, drawing, or paired discussion time. Plan for more dynamic activities to follow informative sessions to re-engage attendees, foster creative thinking, and keep things brisk and productive.

“You're not just there to tell people something. You need to know what questions they have about it. What surprised them, what resonated, what do they disagree with? That kind of thing.”
Jordan Hirsch, CEO, Lead Trainer & Coach, FishTree

Other ideas to energize your kickoff meeting include setting aside time pair discussions, writing, or drawing, which, says Hirsch, “gets at different parts of the brain… so new information comes to light…. The more formats and modes you bring in, the more it helps that energy." Importantly, this also allows visual thinkers or quieter team members to contribute, so you get more diverse input.  

Pro tip: Use Switchboard’s built-in whiteboard so people can get creative in your meeting. You’ll be amazed at what comes up that you might not otherwise have thought of.   
Switchboard room with apps and people, including whiteboard.
In Switchboard you can use the built-in whiteboard or any of your favorite whiteboard tools—with no integrations. Just pull it up and get started.

7. Stay focused  

A focused meeting is an efficient meeting. Try to avoid packing too much information in. People only have so much capacity to absorb it and will start disengaging when they get saturated. 

To avoid overwhelming people, start high level and don’t try to cover everything. This is an introductory meeting to provide an overview of project scope, risks, timelines, methodologies, next steps, etc. The minutiae of how each team will operate should get planned out in subsequent, smaller meetings or async. 

Hirsch says, “The more you can keep people focused on your topic, the more productive it'll be overall…. Sometimes, I have a no laptop rule at the table. I've also had a few meetings where I put out tubs of Play-Doh. When people would ordinarily have started checking their email, instead, they grabbed the tub and started playing with it.” 

Note that if you’re going to discourage laptops, you’ll need to provide an alternative for functions like note-taking—like physical notepads. People getting stressed about not remembering things will only distract them. 

If you’re meeting online you should also follow virtual meeting best practices like keeping cameras on but switching off self-view so people don’t get distracted evaluating whether their recent haircut suits them.  

8. Take a break 

For longer meetings, factoring in breaks and, if necessary, refreshments helps maintain energy levels and focus. A short break every 1.5-2 hours is about right, with a longer one for lunch during all day meetings. 

During short breaks, people should step away from their screens or desk and do something unrelated to work. For example, take a short walk, do a brief physical activity, or a quick mindfulness exercise. During longer breaks, give them something to think about in the meantime, to be discussed when you reconvene, to prevent them totally disconnecting. This makes it easier and quicker to transition back into a productive meeting mindset. 

9. Be flexible and don’t expect to cover everything 

"You probably won't cover everything, so the first step is to make peace with that,” says Hirsch, “Even within the meeting, you're always reprioritizing… I can't tell you how many meetings I've had when we’ve been back channeling: ‘This conversation is really good; really valuable information, let's let it go on and instead cut an activity from hour three.’ To do this, check in quickly with key stakeholders during breaks to assess if the agenda needs adjusting. This helps keep the meeting relevant and productive. 

Don't be afraid to kind of adjust on the fly. You don't want to cut off a great conversation just because the agenda says it's time to move on to the next thing.” Jordan Hirsch, CEO, Lead Trainer & Coach, FishTree

You should also leave space in the agenda for Q&A to ensure a shared understanding of the project, and so everyone knows their role in it. Also, what they need to do next.  

Your project kickoff meeting: More efficient, shorter, and more productive 

The more efficient your project kickoff meeting, the shorter and more effective it will be. This takes good planning and preparation and strong leadership. Defining clear meeting objectives, sharing information beforehand, and structuring agendas for engagement and participation all let you run smoother kickoff meetings nobody will want to miss. 

Bottom line: it’s now how long the meeting is but what you do with the time that counts. That’s why structuring your project kickoff meeting right lets you make the best use of everyone’s time—before, during, and after the meeting.  

When you use Switchboard as a home base for your project, you get dedicated rooms that save your work, so you share information before the call and save real-time for valuable discussion. 

Do more in meetings—and in between them. 
Switchboard’s interactive rooms let you share materials before the call and work side by side in your own applications and documents.
Sign up free

Frequently asked questions about how long a kickoff meeting should be

When should the kickoff meeting take place? 

The kickoff meeting should take place at the start of your project. That is, once the contract is signed, after the initial scoping and planning phases have been completed but before the actual development work begins in earnest. 

What do you say in a kickoff meeting? 

In a kickoff meeting, you should introduce the team and key stakeholders and cover aspects like project objectives, project purpose, scope, project timelines, project milestones, project deliverables, risk management, and team roles. You could also share your communication channels, project management software, and how you’ll track project progress and project success. However, bear in mind that this first meeting is an introduction to the project, so keep information high level. At the end, leave space for Q&A before summarizing action items and next steps. 

Who hosts the kickoff meeting? 

A kickoff meeting for a new project is usually hosted by the project manager or someone in a leadership role within the project team. This person is responsible for setting the agenda, ensuring that all relevant project stakeholders are present, and sharing key information before or during the meeting.

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Do more in meetings—and in between them.

Switchboard’s interactive rooms let you share materials before the call and work side by side in your own applications and documents..