We’ve all suffered through some terrible business meetings. The most frustrating ones make you wonder what the point was to begin with. When you walk away feeling like nothing was achieved… well, it just feels like a colossal waste of time. In fact, a recent Forbes article reported that “Each month, people spend about 31 hours in unproductive meetings, and the U.S. spends a whopping $37 billion on salaries for hours spent in unnecessary meetings.” Stop the madness!

We can all agree that some meetings are a must, so let’s make the most of them. If you’re ready to be admired for the way you handle business meetings, give this process a try:

Ask this first: Is this meeting needed?

First, ask yourself if the meeting is necessary. Sometimes issues can be resolved with a simple email or a quick phone call. If not, schedule your meeting and invite only those whose input is imperative to the mission at hand.

Have an agenda

business-meeting-agenda.jpg Avoid facilitating a meeting without a game plan in place. Plan it out in advance, and have a well-thought-out objective and supporting agenda. Email the agenda to each person invited in advance. A day or so before the meeting, check in with those who are required to provide input or speak at the meeting to make sure they are prepared.

Start on time When you delay your meeting to accommodate those who are late, it says ‘it’s ok’ to be tardy to your meetings. Avoid setting that precedent. Everyone’s time is valuable – both you, the lead and the other participants. Instead, start on time, every time – even with conference calls. No exceptions.

Start time tip: start meetings on the quarter hour instead of the hour or half hour. Most meetings start and end on the hour or half hour. Plus, an hour is more daunting than 45 minutes. And isn’t about 15 minutes of every meeting fluff, waiting for late arrivals, or unfocused chatter? Squeeze the time, make it more productive. Why start your meeting at 1:15 instead of 1, or 1:45 instead of 1:30:

“Quarter after the hour works quite nicely. People have the time they need to take a little break between meetings. Not only are they more likely to be on time, they will be less stressed and hopefully more focused.” -Tom LaForce, The Meeting Will Start at 1:15

Remove distractions

At the beginning of your meeting, ask everyone to put their phones on Do Not Disturb, or suggest that they have important calls forwarded to another member of the team. The fewer distractions you have, the more efficient your meeting time will be.

Stay on topic

While it’s important to keep the meeting on track, remember that no one ever wants to be talked at. Good meetings are conversations where everyone is encouraged to provide input. If, however, the meeting begins to veer off track, reel it back in, without shutting down the input. Good points or ideas that are brought up that stray from the topic should be noted as “Parking lot” items to discuss at another time.

Lighten up a little

creative-team-meeting.jpg While some meeting topics aren’t always exciting, it’s up to you to keep attendees engaged. Use your creativity to come up with ways to make your meetings more fun. Take all the chairs out of the room and have a standup meeting. Start a sentence and then go around the room, asking each person to complete the sentence. Something like “What I love most about this project is…” Have ideas on a whiteboard and provide “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” stickers to the team so they can vote on the ideas in a more interactive way. There are a ton of ways to create a meeting that is more interactive and lively. Engagement is the driver of successful meetings.

Finish on time

If you’ve scheduled a meeting for 30 minutes, make sure that meeting ends in 30 minutes. If you have a clear agenda, and keep the chatter to a minimum, setting people free on time should be a breeze. If you have to, set a timer, and when the buzzer sounds… time’s up!

Think about it: why do we have “hard stops”? Is a “stop” not enough? Adding the hardness probably came about as a result of meetings running over. Respect the standard stop :)

Keep a record

Take notes during the meeting and make them available in a central location that is accessible to the team. At the end of every meeting, do a quick recap to note action items and due dates. At the next meeting, do a quick check-back to get the status of each item that was assigned. A project manager is a good person to own this. If you wear that hat yourself, even jotting down the minutes will help.

Business meetings don’t have to be boring – and they don’t have to be long. You’ve probably been to hour-long meetings that you know could have been whittled down to 15 minutes! Keep your agenda tight – and keep the meeting interesting – and you may even have people looking forward to the next one.

What are your best tips for hosting a productive meeting? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.