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12 secrets to holding more productive business meetings

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Poorly managed meetings have been called the black holes of the work day and can weaken your company's productivity. According to a worldwide study conducted by Microsoft Corp., business people spend nearly six hours a week in meetings and nearly 70% of the participants reported that their meetings were unproductive.

Too many meetings, lack of preparation, no follow-up and employees zoning out because they've lost interest are among the typical problems.

Badly managed meetings can also have a negative effect on employee morale and teamwork. If people routinely arrive late for your meetings, stare at their smartphones and aren't taking notes, your company has some improvements to make.

Best practices

Here are some best practices for brushing up on your company's meeting culture.

  1. Reduce the number of meetings by finding other ways to address business. If it's simply information‑sharing or reviewing project status, for example, consider email or other written communications. Your employees will be grateful and use the time more productively.
  2. If you're undecided whether or not you need a meeting, ask yourself: Do I need the input of other people, to make team‑based decisions or solve a contentious issue? If not, you may not have a valid reason to hold the meeting.
  3. Create a company culture where meetings are valued and respected. If you allow people to be consistently late or arrive unprepared, you’re sending out a message that your meetings are unimportant. Close the door once the meeting begins and don't start over for latecomers.
  4. Send out an agenda in advance so that participants can be fully prepared. Be sure it’s action‑oriented. If participants aren't essential to achieving a goal, they shouldn't be there. You can allot specific times for each topic to keep the meeting on track and request that somebody take notes.
  5. If you find you're attending too many meetings, check with the organizer first to see if your presence is necessary. Maybe you can assign somebody else on your team to attend.
  6. In today's demanding business environment, last‑minute meetings are sometimes necessary, but they should be an exception and not the rule. Don't hold meetings outside of normal business hours unless it's an emergency.
  7. If you hold a meeting to solve a problem, start with a brainstorming session first to stimulate creativity; write ideas somewhere visible in the room and don't censor employee input. Once everybody has had a chance to express their point of view, you and your team can decide which ideas work best.
  8. Keep the atmosphere positive. Don't criticize colleagues at meeting. If participants become angry or highly critical, politely call them to order.
  9. To keep your meetings shorter, give the participants brief summaries of topics and avoid handing out lengthy documents. If people are flipping through a PowerPoint while you talk, they're probably not listening.
  10. To deter overly vocal participants from dominating a meeting, be sure that everyone there has an opportunity to speak with a suggested time limit.
  11. If you reach a stalemate on a contentious issue, know when to move on. Don't linger on issues because you can't reach a consensus. Come back to it at a later date.
  12. Close with a plan of action. Ensure that everyone leaves knowing what is expected of them.

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