Tips for More Productive Meetings

With a limited number of hours in each day, most of us are looking for ways to be more productive. Often, poorly-organized and executed meetings are a key reason why it can suddenly be 3:00 in the afternoon before we really have time to dig in to the projects we hoped to accomplish that day. And, while you can't control how others run their meetings, there are simple, practical things you can do to ensure that the next meeting you hold is efficient and productive - for all involved.

Know why you're meeting, with whom, and how.

Let's face it, most meetings really are necessary, but occasionally there are times when a meeting really isn't required. So, the first step is determining if a meeting is truly needed and what you plan to accomplish as a result. Once you have clear goals, identify the key individuals who must be invited and decide if what you need to accomplish needs to be done face to face or can be accomplished via conference call. Allowing attendees to call in from remote locations - even from their office down the hall - makes it more convenient for everyone.

Set an agenda. And stick to it.

Every meeting has a purpose - and if it doesn't, there's no point in meeting - so make sure that all of the attendees are on the same page before the meeting begins. Create an agenda in advance and circulate it amongst key players to generate feedback and ensure that everyone knows why you're meeting and what you hope to accomplish. Send updated agendas prior to the meeting if there have been any changes, and provide additional copies at the meeting in case people arrive without theirs.

Remember, you want the meeting to be as productive as possible, so use the agenda as your guide - stay on the topics you've identified and insist that everyone else does, too. If issues arise that require further discussion but are not directly related to the topic you're meeting about, suggest having a conversation at a later time.

Make it unplugged.

You won't accomplish much if half the people at the conference table are checking their Blackberry while the others are fielding calls on their cell phone. So, ask attendees to leave their laptops, Blackberries and cell phones out of the meeting, and schedule breaks at strategic intervals during longer meetings so they can check their messages. And, of course, if you're asking others to give up their gadgets while you meet, be sure to do the same.

Watch the clock.

Start your meeting on time - even if all of the attendees haven't arrived. Be sure to stay on task with discussions and keep small talk to a minimum. Don't feel bad about cutting people off if their comments go on too long - respectfully thank them for their input and let them know it's time to move on. If the meeting is a long one, schedule breaks when appropriate. And remember, starting on time means ending on time. Everyone will appreciate that.

Noteworthy follow up.

Great meetings promote a healthy discussion level - and result in decisions. So include an administrative assistant to take notes or ask one of the attendees to keep a record of the conversation and any decisions reached. These will come in handy after the meeting, as details can be lost when a lot of ground is covered.

Afterward, follow up with a short email thanking everyone for their participation, answering any questions or providing any additional information as promised during the meeting. This is also a great time to send along the notes from the meeting to ensure that everyone is clear on what was decided and why.

Consistency is key.

Once you develop a reputation for holding productive, efficient meetings, people will come to expect that same level of professionalism, so try to be consistent. As a result, you may notice that people are more energized when they're attending your meetings. Since very few of us enjoy feeling like our time is being wasted, knowing that we're attending a meeting that will actually lead to results makes us more likely to attend - and participate at a higher level. You may even notice others in your company employing some of your tactics to improve their own meetings.

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