To Transform Your Meetings From Pitiful to Productive, Always Have an Agenda It's a tool you already know about but probably never use. Maybe you should.

By Shawn Doyle

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Hero Images | Getty Images

According to research by the online meeting company Fuze, more than $37 billion is spent each year on unproductive meetings. Let that one sink in for a moment. That's 37 billion -- yes, billion, with a b -- yet this seems to be an expense that no one is tracking or that is ever measured.

Many of my clients across the globe complain about how many meetings they're in every week, how much time is wasted and how inefficient the meetings are. Many times, they don't even know why they are in a meeting at all. The reality is, meetings are driving people crazy. Designer Karl Lagerfeld once expressed this sentiment by saying, "I don't do meetings."

Related: How 10 Famous Business Leaders, Including Musk, Bezos and Jobs, Handle Meetings

The solution to this problem is one that is very simple -- and one that everyone knows about but often doesn't use. Simply use an agenda. If you use an agenda, you can dramatically increase the effectiveness and efficiency of any meeting, no matter if it is with one person or a group.

Here are some guidelines for using an agenda:

Have one.

Every meeting that is important should have an agenda, in writing and printed out so everyone can follow along. No one would go on a business trip without having an itinerary, confirmation numbers, hotel reservations and boarding passes. An agenda is a central document for the meeting regarding what you want to cover. It provides focus and keeps everyone on track.

Agendas should have a few objectives.

Laying out two to three objectives at the top of an agenda is a great way to increase focus. What do you want to achieve in the meeting? Solve a problem? Brainstorm ideas? Make a decision about a project? You can't hit a target if you don't know what it is. As Comcast executive David Cohen once said, "Meetings with no goal, also known as 'coffee shop' meetings, can be huge time wasters if you're not efficient with them. Always know why you're meeting, and make sure it's important. Try to keep them to 30 minutes, max."

Related: A Meeting Agenda Guide That Actually Works (Infographic)

Send it out in advance.

If you send the agenda to people who will be attending the meeting, it gives them a chance to think about what is going to be discussed and to prepare in advance. They can bring materials research, ideas and information to the meeting. Also ask everyone if they have anything they would like to add. Asking for input gets better buy-in from meeting attendees.This one point alone makes a meeting immediately much more effective. Many of the people I meet never take the time to do this because they are too busy, but ironically this simple technique can save everyone so much more time.

The person facilitating the meeting should stick to the agenda.

The person facilitating the meeting should stick to the agenda. If people try to go off topic, the facilitator should gently steer them back. When items come up that are not on the agenda, a meeting can go long or be derailed entirely. Items not on the agenda should be noted and covered at a different time. How many times have people sat in meetings while someone rambled on about something off topic? Don't let people practice off agenda-itus!

Related: Make Sure Your Meetings Don't Waste Everyone's Time by Doing These 10 Things

Agendas should have time estimates for each topic.

In an ideal world, every item on the agenda should have a time estimate. It can be slightly flexible, but this also helps the facilitator stay on track. As a professional speaker and trainer, I facilitate hundreds of live training programs every year, and I always start and finish on time. My secret weapon is -- you guessed it -- my timed agenda!

If you can have the discipline to have agendas for meetings, it can transform your organization.

Shawn Doyle

President, New Light Learning and Development Inc.

Shawn Doyle is a professional speaker, author and executive coach. He is the president of New Light Learning & Development, a company that specializes in training and leadership-development programs.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Related Topics

Growing a Business

3 Strategies to Help Leaders Ignite Passion in the Workplace (and Why It's Important)

Here are three proven strategies to help you motivate your team and bring passion into the workplace.

Business News

Report: The Majority of Recent College Grads End Up in Jobs That Don't Need Bachelor's Degrees

Two research companies looked at a dataset of 60 million Americans.

Diversity

As a Black Woman CEO, I Built a Remote Company Not Just to Save Money — But to Mirror My Commitment to Diversity. Here's How.

To fuel innovation and global success, you absolutely need diverse perspectives — and having team members all across the world with varying thought processes, life experiences and viewpoints is the key.

Management

6 Ways to Prepare For and Reduce Employee Turnover

The reality is that life happens to us all – people get sick, medical issues come up, we have children or aging parents to care for, and we leave jobs.

Growing a Business

How to Bridge the Gap Between Aspirations and Reality in Business

Bringing a vision to life requires a good dose of self-honesty and a multi-year plan for incremental progress.

Devices

Save on These Open-Ear Headphones — $30 This Week

Liberate your ears with these wireless, non-invasive headphones discounted for a limited time.