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How to Make Your Next Meeting More Effective

Meetings are unavoidable. They're essential for keeping up to date with colleagues, making sure projects are on track and departments have cohesive objectives. Unfortunately, it's easy for meetings to turn into unproductive events, putting a drain on everyone's time.

Do Employees Find Meetings Beneficial?
While the occasional meeting may prove extremely helpful for keeping everyone informed and working toward the same goals, having multiple gatherings in a week is usually not effective in the long run, even if they cover different topics or company initiatives. A study by Clarizen, a project management solution provider, revealed only 30 percent of employees think meetings help them accomplish their tasks and nearly 40 percent think meetings focused on status updates of pending projects are a waste of their time.

Even when employees don't find meetings effective, they usually feel compelled to plan for them anyway, which takes even more time out of their day as they prepare what they will say. The research showed 67 percent of respondents spend between one and four hours per week preparing for these check-ins.

Too many meetings or ineffective ones don't just waste the time of lower level employees - they also take a toll on an executive's time. In fact, many in executive positions may advocate limiting the number of business-related gatherings. According to a survey by OfficeTeam, a division of Robert Half International, 45 percent of executives think their workers would be more productive if their organization banned meetings one full day each week. These professionals felt that about 28 percent of all meetings they attend are unnecessary.

How to Determine If a Meeting Is Really Necessary
Some situations or projects do call for get-togethers. How can you determine if having a meeting really is critical to a project's success?

• Figure out if there's another way you can communicate the information. Rather than calling for a meeting and taking time out of the workday, can you email the information to an associate, or even drop by that person's desk for a few moments to have a brief discussion? Taking five minutes to convey any updates this way may be more effective than an hour-long meeting and allow everyone to get more done throughout the day.

• Consider if there's actually important information to share. Every meeting should have a point. While you may have weekly meetings for project status updates, think carefully about whether they're really necessary. Is there actually new data to discuss, or will you just be rehashing information from the last gathering? Consider whether you - and your team - will truly find the discussion valuable. If not, the time may be better spent on other tasks, like getting those projects done.

Run Your Meetings More Effectively
Can't-miss meetings need to be run effectively in order for all attendees to get the most out of them. Consider the following to ensure the gathering won't be a waste of everyone's time:

• Prepare an agenda in advance. Employees will see right through you if you have failed to adequately prepare for your own meeting. You'll come across as someone who is not interested in what your employees have to think and say, and it will make a dent in employees' perception of you. Don't give off the wrong impression - simply spend a few moments getting ready the day before, and you could see a huge difference in employee attitudes about meetings. Write out key points you want to discuss and any goals that were recently achieved to help your meeting stay on track in terms of topic and timing. Email the agenda in advance to make employees aware of the subjects that will be discussed and give them a way to prepare as much as possible.

• Put together necessary materials. You may have prepared an agenda, but sometimes it's easier to convey information by handing out documents, showing videos or discussing charts. Consider how you can best get your points across and keep attendees engaged, and then gather the tools necessary to do so. Do this only if the materials help you get your point across.

• Determine who really needs to be there. Many executives have been called into meetings only to feel their presence is completely unnecessary and a good portion of their day has been wasted. Don't force team members who aren't involved in a project to sit in on discussions. Instead, carefully consider who really needs to be there and why their attendance is important. 

• Don't let one forgetful person throw an entire meeting off track. While it may be frustrating when someone doesn't show up to the conference room on time, don't let it hold you back from starting on schedule. Waiting for one tardy employee is not only disrespectful to those who took the initiative to show up on time, it wastes even more of their day and keeps them from getting to the tasks they have to complete before they head home. Stopping on time is also important - running well past your scheduled time may make some employees lose interest or force them to put off client calls or other activities.

• Allow attendees to voice their thoughts. Allowing one person to speak without interruption for the entire length of a meeting can bore attendees and cause them to quickly shift their attention to something else. Instead of using this format, ask questions and encourage employees to participate. This not only keeps them alert, it also gives everyone the sense that their opinion is valuable and provides you with important employee insight.

Ask Employees to Help You Make Meetings More Efficient
While you may be responsible for scheduling and running a meeting, don't take on all the burden. Use members of your team to help you ensure it's as effective as possible. 

• Have someone to take notes. If you have a team member who takes exceptionally good notes or enjoys organizing information to distribute to other employees, ask that person to keep minutes for your longer and more involved meetings. These can then be passed on to attendees later on to ensure they didn't miss anything or are able to follow up on any important points.

• Request mobile devices be put away. Before starting your meeting, ask employees to leave their smartphones, tablets and laptops at their desks or turn them off upon entering the conference room. People can easily become distracted during meetings, and limiting use of devices will ensure they aren't caught up text messaging, emailing or surfing the web while they're supposed to be paying attention. Executives can be guilty of getting distracted as well, so set a good example by putting your own devices away while in meetings. 

• Be receptive to feedback. Ask your employees for feedback on how meetings are run - and more importantly, listen to what they have to say. Team members who spent the most time sitting in meetings may have smart ideas on how to streamline practices or get messages across more clearly.

• Give a brief wrap-up. Before breaking up the meeting, briefly go over what decisions were made at the meeting and any action items. This is both to make sure everyone is on the same page, and it gives you a minute to evaluate whether the meeting was indeed effective (and necessary).

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