5 Simple Ways to Recover the Lost Art of Productive Meetings

5 Simple Ways to Recover the Lost Art of Productive Meetings
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Just referencing the dreaded "M" word can cause heart palpitations and sweaty palms for fear of yet another hour of your life that you’ll never get back. I don’t know about you, but there’s enough gray hair on my head already, and having another meeting isn’t going to help them go away. So what to do?

First, meetings are designed for a purpose, but what generally happens is that purpose gets hijacked by stronger personalities for myriad reasons: They never got the memo about what the meeting's about, they think they’re entitled to run the meeting how they want (rather than what’s best for the organization) or they just don’t know any better.

Related: To Make Meetings Count, Don't Count Past One (Per Week)

There are plenty of reasons for why meetings go awry, but not many for how to make them better. Let's change that.

Here are five ways to shape your next meeting so it’s successful and doesn't make you look older than you really are:

1. Share the agenda.

Ideally, this is done earlier than five minutes before the meeting begins. Attendees need to know what the meeting is about so they can properly prepare for it. It's when people don’t know what to bring to the meeting that those meetings become unproductive, because now another meeting will have to established to backfill the agenda that was never served from the first one.

Have a preset agenda at least 72 hours ahead of time. Of course, last minute details will always arise, so just highlight and then repurpose them for the following week's agenda.

2. Highlight the purpose.

Personally, I like to write the purpose of the meeting on a whiteboard or flip chart for all to see. That way, when topics begin to fall off track, any attendee can refer back to the orginal intent on the whiteboard and ask, “Is what we’re discussing in line with the purpose of this meeting?” It’s a conflict-free way to remind people to save sidebar conversations for later.

3. Invite the right people.

Many meetings stagnate because the wrong people are in the room. Namely, the decision-makers who couldn’t attend send their number two who, when faced with a decision in the meeting, is afraid to decide because he or she isn’t “the” decision-maker. If the right people aren't there, don't expect the "right" outcome.

Related: Why Successful People Never Bring Smartphones Into Meetings

4. Set a time limit.

Having a target for when the meeting will adjourn does three things: First, it forces people to focus on productivity. Second, it builds trust because as time goes on, attendees learn that they can trust you because you stick to your guns and respect others’ time by adhering to the plan. Third, it gives people something to aspire toward should the meeting not be the best part of their day (that’s a joke).

5. Follow through.

There are three types of people in a meeting: those who are present, those who attend and those who take up space and breathe good air. Here are the differences:

  • Those who are present actively listen and engage in the topics. They think three to four steps ahead of the presenter at all times because they’re results driven and strive to make an impact. 
  • Those who are attend are there because they have to be, and will follow through with anything only when asked of them, but they’re not as proactive as the former.
  • The final group offers nothing but a pretty face (or not) to feign interest in the subject matter, and as soon as other people leave the room everything discussed will be dumped before he or she logs onto Facebook (which will probably happen within the next five minutes).

Of the three types of attendees, groups two and three -- those who attend and those who take up space -- are the ones with whom you want to follow up post meeting. Doing so ensures greater accountability on their parts and garners more attention from them the next meeting.

Meetings don’t have to be the bane of everyone’s existence. They can be fun, informative and purposeful. They can not only bring people together on personal levels, but also create a sense of shared ownership for achieving future objectives.

Related: Why Meetings Are One of the Worst Business Rituals. Ever.