How to get the most out of your meetings

Man in a blue suit with his head on the table sleeping during a meeting

Every day, UK businesses waste hours in meetings - when a simple email or phone call would have done the job. Not only does the average employee feel that they have to attend too many meetings, more often than not they go on for too long, often with no clear purpose or goal

According to office experts, it's estimated that UK workers will waste up to a year of their lives in pointless meetings, costing the economy around £26 billion.

Here are seven golden rules to optimize your time and help your business enjoy short, snappy and more productive get-togethers.

1. Be exclusive with your invitations

Some of the biggest and most successful companies have rules in place to keep meeting attendees to a minimum. For example, Amazon has a "two pizza" rule, which means they'd never hold a gathering in which they couldn't feed the whole group with two pizzas.

Often, office politics get in the way - but if you want a productive meeting, you're going to have to be exclusive with your invites.

2. Ask attendees to prepare

Your attendees have been invited to the meeting for a reason, so make sure they understand its purpose and what they'll be expected to contribute.

They may also benefit from jotting down in advance anything they'd like to ask during the meeting - in the heat of the moment, these questions can easily be forgotten.

3. Be savvy with your time

Your time - and everyone else's - is valuable, so make sure you use it wisely. Create an agenda which outlines the purpose of the meeting, topics of discussion and the time allotted for each, as well as any decisions that need to be made.

This will help the meeting flow, and ensure you cover everything you need to in the time given.

4. Ban electronic distractions

Meetings are held for a specific purpose. If attendees are checking emails or phones throughout, this is going to distract their attention and make it more difficult to accomplish what you set out to do.

You could suggest that mobile phones be put on silent and placed face-down on the table for the duration of the meeting. If laptops or tablets are usually used, provide participants with a printed agenda and any supporting materials, with space to take notes the old-fashioned way.

5. Encourage participation

Try not to let a small number of people dominate the meeting. Instead, create a friendly atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions.

Terms like "ice-breaker" make a lot of people cringe, but a round-table question gets the conversation going. Or take it one step further and incorporate a teambuilding activity to break up a dull topic.

6. Change things up

Don't follow the same tired format at every meeting - your employees will just get bored. Instead, think about what worked well in your last few meetings and use this info to create a new approach.

This might mean ditching the PowerPoint presentation, or even getting rid of the boardroom setting entirely.

7. Listen!

There's nothing worse than leading a presentation and knowing that your audience is clearly not engaged. Try to make an impression with your own listening skills.

By making eye contact and nodding and smiling while others are speaking, you'll be practicing some key active listening skills, which doesn't just mean that you'll benefit from what's being said - you'll also build a relationship with the speaker.

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