5 ways to get more out of meetings

You have probably experienced meeting-overload at some point in your careers, and the truth is that most meetings diminish productivity. Try these five steps to make your next meeting more meaningful and less time-consuming.

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Intel's Unite makes collaboration in meetings easier.

Credit: Intel

The modern workforce is growing resentful of meetings. In fact, a recent survey from Atlassian found that, on average, employees attend 62 meetings per month and at least half of those meetings are considered "time wasted." Of the respondents, 91 percent admitted they daydreamed during meetings, 39 percent owned up to falling asleep during a meeting and 45 percent said they felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of meetings they needed to attend.

In fact, a whopping 96 percent said they often miss meetings all together, whether due to workload or overlapping meetings. And when employees do make it to meetings, 73 percent said they often did unrelated work during it.

But it's naïve to think a business can simply do away with meetings, companies focus on fostering meaningful meetings. "The way you moderate a meeting reflects your leadership skills, and the work put into a successful meeting shows that you are prepared, conscious of everyone's time and invested in reaching the common goals of the company," says Don Joos, president and CEO of ShoreTel, a company that helps businesses implement modern phone and communication systems.

Turn to technology

If you've ever been in a meeting where someone had a great idea that everyone got excited about, only for it to quickly fizzle out post-meeting, you're not alone. Shyam Oza, senior product manager at AvePoint, a company focused on cloud solutions for Office 365 and SharePoint, recommends turning to IT to discover ways to document, audit, collect and analyze data in real time, so it's easier to follow up and deliver on innovative ideas.

Whether it's a way to record and track new ideas or issues that pop up in a weekly stand-up, catalogue how much time is spent in meetings or simply to determine which meetings are a waste of time -- having that unbiased data can be helpful.

Joos says that technology can also help make meetings more interactive, especially if everyone attending isn't in the same room. He suggests opting for services that include messaging platforms, document sharing and even emoticons that will let participants "raise a hand" or ask the presenter to "slow down."

You can even consider shifting moderator control from person to person, involving more people in the process and boosting overall engagement. But it's also important to ensure the technology you employ is easy to use and low-maintenance, says Joos. The last thing you want is to delay a meeting 15 minutes while the presenter fights with a screen sharing software or complicated dial-in system.

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Embrace the agenda

An agenda for a meeting might feel redundant. Why not just wait until everyone shows up and dive right in? But according to Oza, meeting agendas can help streamline the process. At the very least, an agenda can help you figure out if the meeting is even worth holding, or if you can simply send out an update instead.

"It may seem like common sense, but if you don't have action items to fill an agenda, scratch the meeting all together and conduct an email update," says Oza.

Joos recommends sending the agenda out at least two hours prior to the meeting; include details like the required attendees, topics of discussion, goals and the start and stop time. It's also a great way for people to determine if they actually need to go to that meeting -- by reviewing the agenda, they can quickly decide if that meeting applies to them.

Document sharing

Collaboration is important for any business and that shouldn't end with the meeting. Instead of bringing printouts or displaying your own monitor on a conference room TV, try document and screen sharing technology. Get employees on the same platform so that they can easily send and share documents during, before and after meetings, says Oza.

It's about turning meetings into a collaborative experience, rather than a lecture where everyone simply zones out. If you can make meetings more interactive by giving everyone the chance to have their voice heard -- even if it's just in a Google Doc update -- employees are less likely to check out, says Joos.

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Encourage meeting etiquette

Meetings can quickly devolve into "chaos," says Oza, whether the technology is on the fritz or employees keep getting off topic, you want to keep meetings on track. In order to do this, Oza recommends etiquette training for employees to keep meetings from running longer than necessary or even over the scheduled time.

You want to make sure everyone understands that, while meetings are a great time to catch up with colleagues, you don't want to spiral off into a conversation about someone's upcoming vacation. The person running the meeting doesn't have to be rude, or controlling, but they can take steps to ensure that everyone's staying on task.

"A common mistake that meeting leaders make is being overly polite to attendees. If the conversation is getting off topic, don't be afraid to intervene and bring the conversation back to the outlined topics, and table any relevant points raised for a future discussion," says Joos.

Keep it short

One of the best ways you can keep everyone on track is to keep meetings short, says Joos. He cites the "Parkinson's Law," which says that you can expect a task to take as long as it takes you to plan for it. For example, Joos points out, if you schedule a meeting for two hours, you can't be surprised when that meeting lasts two hours. It's likely that if you scheduled that same meeting for one hour, the meeting would achieve the same goals, just in a shorter time span. And if, at the end, you decide you need more time to hash out an idea, you can schedule a follow up with the key players.

"Employees' time is precious and a successful meeting uses the time that has been scheduled to achieve specific tasks previously outlined. Companies should strive to find the right balance between respecting an individual's time by conducting a structured meeting while still allowing the freedom for differing opinions to be discussed and debated," he says.

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This story, "5 ways to get more out of meetings" was originally published by CIO.

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