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3 Ways to Ensure Productive Meetings

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on November 30, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Few people get excited about meetings. Why? Because they're typically felt to be a waste of time. Here you are, listening to someone drone on and on about something that could have been conveyed more quickly in an email. There goes another hour that could be spent on work, wasted before an endless deck of PowerPoint slides. There's a reason people often sneak in actual work -- checking their emails, updating their calendars -- while meetings are going on.

But your meetings don't have to be awful. They can be productive, even rewarding, if you follow these three tips.

1. Set an Agenda and Stick to It

Every meeting should have a specific purpose and that purpose should be reflected in the meeting's agenda. Knowing what you're going to cover beforehand, and how much time you'll need to address it, ensures that you're prepared and focused. Distribute the agenda before the meeting to make sure that others are prepared and focused as well.

What's more, once you have an agenda, you need to make sure you stick to it. Don't let things get off track, don't let discussions run on and ramble. If something is taking too long to address or a conversation isn't heading in a productive direction, you can always table the issue and return to it at a later time.

2. Toss Your PowerPoint Slides

What would a meeting be without PowerPoint? Better.

While PowerPoint and other presentation software can be useful in limited circumstances (displaying charts and graphs, for example), they're almost always unnecessary. Worse, they can be detrimental. The limited space on a PowerPoint slide can force you to reduce complex ideas to a sentence or two, while the glowing screen behind you increases the chance that the meeting participants will be paying more attention to your .ppt's than to you. So, don't use PowerPoint where you don't need it and, even then, try to keep it to a minimum.

3. Be Clear About Expectations

A productive meeting requires setting clear expectations about what participants are responsible for, both before and after the meeting. Is this a meeting to simply touch base? People can probably come without much prep work done beforehand. Will it require reports, updates, concrete plans? Then you better make sure that attendees come prepared with whatever information they need.

The same goes for follow-up. At the conclusion of a meeting, everyone should have a clear sense of what is expected of them moving forward. Don't expect everyone to remember dates and deadlines, though. Shortly after the meeting -- say, within an hour or so -- send a reminder email out, detailing what everyone agreed to.

And, of course, the best meeting is no meeting at all. So, before you pull everyone aside for an hour in the conference room, make sure your meeting is absolutely necessary. If it's not, don't have it. That way, people can devote their time to actual work.

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