Don’t let bad, boring meetings waste your time and ruin your day.

Meetings are often the bane of business. They consume time and money—a two-hour meeting with eight sales associates equals two person-days—and frequently produce scant results. Worst of all, they’re often boring. Following are some tips to keep meetings on track and productive.

PREPARATION

Before any meeting begins, do the following:

  1. Know why you’re having a meeting. It sounds obvious, but some meetings are held simply because they’ve “always” been held. Every meeting should have a purpose that’s clear to you and your team. Whether it’s to discuss sales goals for the upcoming month or to inform the staff about new store policies, articulate a sound reason for the meeting.

  2. Have a written agenda. Distribute it at least one day before the meeting to give participants time to prepare. Include date, time, location, and names of all attendees. Include the estimated amount of time required to discuss each agenda item and consider labeling items as “Discussion,” “Decision,” “Information,” “Brainstorming,” etc.

  3. Solicit agenda items from your team. Every member of your staff—from sales associates to bench jewelers to the marketing manager—will feel more invested in the meeting, and important issues that you might not have considered will be included.

  4. Choose an appropriate venue. The meeting room should be comfortable and equipped ahead of time with whiteboards, flip charts, markers, and whatever else you’ll need. The conference table should be large enough to accommodate everyone. Don’t let would-be wallflowers sit apart from the main group.

  5. Take extra copies of documents. In case someone forgets theirs, have extra agendas and any other documents needed by participants, such as sales reports, literature from a proposed new ad campaign, customer feedback, or a mockup of a new direct mailer.

THE MEETING

To pick up the pace and keep meetings productive, enforce the following rules:

  1. Stick to the agenda. Politely cut off conversation that strays from the topic at hand. If the new subject is important, put it on the next agenda, or, if there’s time, take it up after completing the written agenda.

  2. Only one person speaks at a time. Everyone should have a chance to speak and be heard. It’s acceptable—even desirable—for the discussion to include give and take, but no one should interrupt anyone else, and no side conversations should be tolerated.

  3. Everyone pays attention to the speaker. Participation in a meeting entails more listening than speaking. Remind attendees that not paying attention to the speaker is rude. Again, that means no side conversations.

  4. Speakers should address the entire group. Whoever has the floor should address and make eye contact with all the other participants, not focus on one or two individuals, and speak in a clear, assertive—not aggressive—voice.

  5. Don’t beat a dead horse. Always encourage honest debate and negotiation, but if a staffer keeps repeating the same point about a new line of jewelry or a proposed newspaper ad, you need to step in, summarize the conflicting views, and move on.

BRAINSTORMING

Brainstorming can be an effective way to stimulate creativity, but remember these guidelines:

  1. Encourage humor. Brainstorming should unleash creativity, not be a sober and serious exercise. If necessary, take the lead in suggesting something comical.

  2. Record every idea. Use a flip chart and write down every idea proposed, including the most outrageous. Consider using two flip charts and asking two people to write, since ideas often come quickly.

  3. Don’t judge ideas during the session. This is critical. If you debate the merits of ideas during the brainstorming session, the discussion will turn serious, spontaneity will be lost, people will feel reluctant to speak lest their suggestions be judged harshly, and creativity will be stifled.

  4. Encourage “hitchhiking.” Build on ideas, including the wild ones.

  5. Review ideas after the session. Sometime after the brainstorming session, review all the ideas with the team. Eliminate the unworkable ones and debate and discuss those that are genuine possibilities.

OTHER TIPS

  1. Keep agendas to a single page. It imposes discipline on you, helps keep meetings manageable, and lets you know when you need more than one meeting.

  2. Meet before lunch. Midmorning, when energy levels are high, is the ideal time to meet. Also, people anticipating lunch are more likely to stay on schedule.

  3. Put your watch in front of you. That reminds you to keep track of time and signals to other participants that time is valuable.

  4. Tell attendees to turn off cell phones and pagers. A ringing cell phone disrupts the proceedings and pulls a participant away from the task at hand. Don’t allow it.

  5. Record and distribute minutes. All decisions should be included in the minutes, which should be distributed within two days of the meeting.