In a nutshell: Bad meetings lead to sad employees. To keep things rolling, have an agenda, make the invite list small, be creative and keep it short.

If you have a job, there’s one certainty: You’re going to go to a lot of meetings.

If you winced when you read the above sentence, welcome to the majority. Most people dread meetings, and with excellent reasons. Here are some of the ways people get meetings wrong, and some ideas on how to change that.

What’s Wrong With Meetings?

Everything, right? No, not really.

But meetings can seem like “disruptive, unnecessary rituals,” as noted by Entrepreneur. Months and years of enduring such meetings explains why people drag their feet going to them. Or come up with colorful excuses to skip them altogether.

What, specifically, are some of the problems? How about:

  • They’re too long
  • They keep people talking about work rather than actually doing it
  • People in meetings tend to ramble off topic
  • Meetings where management is present can turn into one long, annoying slog as everyone competes to say something to impress the boss
  • There’s no clear focus in many meetings
  • There are too many people in the room
  • They waste time and money – about $37 billion a year in the United States alone, accordingto TED.com.
  • No one brought snacks

OK, we’re kidding about the last one. But only kind of. Anyone who has spent any time in a corporate environment knows that some people look forward more to the food at a meeting than the actual topics discussed.

Here are some ways to turn it around.

Set An Agenda

It’s impossible to arrive at your destination if you don’t know where you are going. That’s true in almost every phase of life, and it certainly applies to meetings.

If you are responsible for leading a meeting, set an agenda for topics you plan to discuss. Send it out to all the meeting participants before the meeting (a day or two before) so they can review it and request additional topics, if needed. Also, it gives them time to prepare for discussing the topics.

Once in the meeting, stick to the agenda. If someone starts wandering into the conversational weeds, rein them in. If you have trouble setting an agenda, you can find templates online.

Don’t Invite Too Many People

Before sending out a meeting invite, ask yourself this:Who really needs to be there?”

According to Inc., not more than seven. Larger groups in meetings result in two bad outcomes. The first is that those who want to speak may not get the chance. The other is that those who want to not participate will find it easier to do so.

Also, large groups end up with side conversations all around the room, which is distracting, disruptive and unproductive.

Whether seven is the magic number depends on the task at hand. Really, the magic number is the number of people who must either (a) do a task associated with the topic at hand; or, (b) make a decision about the topic at hand. And even that second group, which usually involves managers, may not be needed as frontline workers hash out the details and deadlines for a project.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a “two-pizza rule” for meetings. In other words, never hold a meeting where two pizzas can’t feed everyone there. Of course, that also depends on how many pieces of pizza a person is expected to eat, but that’s apparently something Bezos has worked out.

Be Creative

Try new things to make meetings more interesting. For example, change up the time and location of a meeting to give people fresh surroundings. Another clever idea is to start the meeting with a question that gets people talking about the topic.

Some companies take it even further, according to Fast Company. Video game company Genera Games holds meetings on a basketball court, shooting hoops while they talk business. Plum Organics, a baby good manufacturer, has people in meetings color with crayons while they talk and decompress.

And security company Brivo keep employees from wandering back to old topics by literally having a ping pong paddle with the words “no rehash” written on it that people in the meeting can raise if someone loops back to a closed topic.

Keep It Short

Everyone knows instinctively that long meetings are less productive. Noting the reality of “meeting fatigue,” some companies have gone to a 30-minute meeting strategy. That is, no meeting can go longer than 30 minutes without a break.

This supports research done at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which found that working on something that requires intense concentration for an extended period is not the best approach. It’s better to take short breaks. You’ll end up more productive. The same applies to meetings.

Meetings don’t have to be dreaded. Keep the above tips in mind. Remember that meetings are supposed to be productive. Have a purpose. Stick to the plan. Everyone involved will be thankful.

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