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There’s no question that inefficient or excessive meetings are a considerable expense for many organizations — whether they realize it or not. In fact, ineffective meetings cost businesses in the U.S. up to $37 Billion per year. Most companies, however, still feel that meetings are crucial to keeping things running and achieving positive business outcomes.

With these factors in mind, we’ve turned to industry leaders to learn why productive meetings are important, and their best tips on how companies can have better meetings in the future.

Why Are Effective Meetings Essential?

The most critical factor for organizations is the expense related to lost productivity. “If a meeting has been going on for hours and nothing is being accomplished, it is costing the company money because employees [have lost productive work time] while they sat there,” explained Frances Geoghegan, managing director of Healing Holidays. The cost of meetings is not considered as often as it should be because it’s a common way to use the company’s staffing budget. That’s why it's essential that meetings are as efficient as possible.

If meetings are effective, however, employees can achieve incredible things. “Problems are solved, attendees are inspired with a clear focus on what to do next, deadlines are hit and the business continues to run smoothly, until the next bump in the road but at least you have confidence in your team to call a meeting and find a solution,” said Peter Hall, head of marketing for WM Reply.

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Set an Agenda

Set a clear plan ahead of time to keep the meeting on topic while ensuring the purpose of the meeting is deliberate. “At the end of every meeting,” suggested Laura Brinton, content marketing director at Energage, “double-check that you were successful and clarify any action items or next steps.” This will give meeting attendees a better sense of accomplishment and drive positive outcomes from the meeting.

“Don’t keep this agenda to yourself, either, share it with all who are going to be attending the meeting,” Geoghegan said. This will give attendees an idea of what to prepare for and could drive better discussions when the meeting occurs. At the very least, the meeting’s purpose can be achieved faster if participants are prepared.

Only Include Relevant Employees

Make sure the meeting is applicable to everyone involved. “Since many company-impacting decisions are made in meetings, it’s extremely important to include the right people — and cover the right topics in the right way,” Brinton said. Organizers shouldn’t hesitate to include employees that could make a positive impact on the meeting, but only if they have the right context and are necessary.

Hall agreed, “If someone can’t contribute then cut them from the meeting or only invite them in for the section they will contribute too.” There’s no point in having someone attend an hour-long meeting if only a short part is relevant to them. This also means avoiding meetings that should really be 1-to-1 conversations, as this is a surefire way to waste time and money.

Encourage Participation From Everyone Involved

Actively encourage each attendee to participate and discourage dominant personalities from controlling the meeting. For this, Brinton recommends choosing a facilitator to help raise other voices and balance the conversations. “Everyone — regardless of title — has some expertise to offer,” she added. Meeting facilitators could start meetings by inviting each person to speak briefly, so they feel more comfortable speaking up.

This goes for after the meeting is over as well. “Survey your attendees to see how effective and productive they thought your meeting was so you can make adjustments based on their responses,” suggested Melanie Pearl, account director at Union. An essential part of having productive meetings is to find out what works best for your organization and using this information to plan better meetings in the future.

Keep Meetings Short

Don’t schedule meetings that are much longer than necessary. “Work expands the time allotted for its completion (Parkinson’s Law),” explained Pearl, “so for check-ins or status meetings–limit them to 25 minutes.” Besides keeping meetings short, it’s a good idea to double-check that a particular meeting is still necessary beforehand.

“We’ve all been in meetings that have no clear focus, drag on, don’t end with defined outcomes or have attendees turning up late, unprepared or not at all,” Hall said, and “it effects moral.” By running effective meetings, companies can encourage employees to achieve more and keep the business running smoothly.