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Meetings are a necessary part of any company. From smaller businesses that need to plan out staffing needs to multinational corporations that coordinate a yearly employee meeting, gatherings happen.

The size, duration, and topic may change, but what doesn’t seem to change, though, is that many people believe meetings to be a waste of time—and money.

Current estimates place the cost of unnecessary meetings at $37 billion—yes billion—a year.

And the cost can be written in more than dollars: Employees often see meetings as time they could better spend doing other things (like working). Nearly half of all employees in just one survey said that meetings were the biggest waste of their time.

So if there are 11 million meetings every day and plenty of employees find themselves doing other things in meetings—checking their phones, nodding off—then what is a business to do?

Fortunately, there are some steps that can transform time-wasting meetings into productive work zones that people look forward to, not dread.

1. Every Meeting Needs a Definition

What’s happening at the meeting? Are you making decisions, sharing information, or just gathering ideas? In addition, be wary of inviting people just to invite them.

Smaller meetings with fewer people can accomplish much more than can big meetings with too many voices.

2. Someone Leads with Purpose

Have you ever found yourself staring around the table at other meeting attendees as the clock hits the start time, all waiting for someone else to break the ice? This is a recipe for a directionless, possibly confusing conference.

As one Forbes contributor writes, “It’s not always easy to be the one ensuring things are moving along, but someone has to be accountable for running meetings that don’t suck.”

Make sure every meeting has a moderator or task-master of sorts. This person will primarily make sure the meeting proceeds according to its agenda and keep an eye on time, helping the meeting run smoothly from start to finish.

3. Set Some Ground Rules and Have an Agenda

It may seem unnecessary, but beginning all meetings with the same sets of rules—who can talk, when they can talk, what you can talk about—can keep you from losing control over a meeting.

You can also avoid meetings on certain days of the week, like Monday, in order to increase productivity.

Also, make sure there’s a record of the meeting, which can serve as a source of information for anyone who attended or couldn’t make it. Such records are called ‘meeting minutes’ and contain the most important points of the meeting.

A meeting minutes sample can include name, place and time of the meeting, list of the people, its purpose, decisions taken during it, and documents that were discussed.

4. Length Matches Meeting Objectives

Some status report meetings need only be 5 to 10 minutes. All-hands meetings tend to run longer because they’re highly attended and less frequent.

Meetings with a training component tend to require participants to invest more time, while weekly team meetings are more straightforward.

The key takeaway here is that the length of the meeting should match its objectives. Holding participants longer than necessary is a waste of everyone’s time, while rushing through meetings is a surefire way to puzzle and frustrate employees.

Find the sweet spot in which information gets its due in a conducive format, therefore achieving the overarching meeting objectives.

5. Participants Are Engaged, Not Distracted

The length of your meeting matters little if participants are disengaged with the subject matter at hand and its presentation.

Here are a few staff meeting ideas for cutting down on distractions and ramping up employee engagement:

  • Ask a thought-provoking question to kick off every meeting to grab attention.
  • Run an interactive question-and-answer poll to crowdsource group feedback.
  • Turn quick update meetings (15 minutes or less) into “standups.”
  • Start out strong with a creative icebreaker to facilitate bonding.
  • Transition between various presentation styles every few minutes.

There are plenty of ways to keep meetings fresh and interesting for participants, which in turn encourages employees to actively engage so they can better retain key concepts.

6. Meeting Includes Only the Necessary People

Put it this way: Nobody should be wondering “Why am I here?” during a staff meeting.

Limit invitees to those who will genuinely benefit from the information being discussed. Omit people who don’t absolutely need to be in attendance.

Smaller meetings tend to be more productive, anyway.

7. Everyone Leaves Understanding The Next Steps

Most importantly, everyone should walk out of the room understanding the action items they need to complete.

Meetings are meant to be catalysts for action—so make it clear what each person should take from a session and exactly what they need to do before the next one.

8. Always Follow Up

As much as you do a lot of prep work, such as sending reminders and having an agenda, you must also do some follow-up after a meeting.

That involves taking notes of what was decided and what the next steps are, as well as sharing those results so that everyone is on the same page.

Meeting post-mortems should also include levels of responsibility—who is doing what, who they report to, when things are due.

9. Analyze and Optimize

You must also be respectful of the time you allot for meetings. If you run over, that can have a snowball effect for everyone, making them late for other meetings or eating into their time that needs to be dedicated to finishing tasks.

You can also have some meeting soul-searching time, where you look at meetings that went well and those that didn’t to try to figure out what you can capitalize on or what you should change for the next time.

Luckily you can use meetings to your advantage, to build stronger teams that work better, that accomplish necessary goals, that are creative and productive.

But to do so you need to spend time thinking about, planning for, and following up on meetings, as well as thinking about them strategically.

This graphic, with clearly stated to-dos and ideas, helps guide you through meetings that everyone looks forward to and don’t avoid.

SWhat about your company? How can meetings be more effective?

About The Author

This is a guest post by Eugene, a Program Manager at Quill. While he is not working, he enjoys traveling, taking photographs and using Instagram.

Stock Photo from Dejan Dundjerski @ Shutterstock