Meetings get a bad rap. Employees love to hate them, and complain that they get in the way of doing actual work.

If that sounds familiar, your organization is probably doing them wrong.

If your business is a car, meetings are fuel. They're what keeps it all running, propelling decisions and actions forward.

Most of the time, they suck. People sit around without an agenda, so nobody knows what they're there to talk about. There's no clear leader  running the meeting, and attendees don't walk away with a clear course of action.

At my company, we do our best to encourage discussion, alignment, empowerment and action--which is what great meetings do

When you run meetings that empower people to take on certain tasks, align around what everybody agrees is the right stuff to be working on, and leave with clear action items you'll be the envy of your organization.

Here's how to do it.

1. Have an agenda

The first key is to send out an agenda in advance that has the subject line--with a verb--announcing the point of the meeting.

The verb is there to direct people, from the get-go, toward some sort of decision or action. Unless it's a standing meeting just for updates, all great meetings end in some sort of decision or action.

For example, a meeting to develop goals for the upcoming fiscal year could have the subject line: "Decide 2017 Fiscal Goals."

Check on your technology. Make sure it's all working, from audio/visual equipment to voice or web conferencing tools.

2. Play some tunes

Have music playing before the meeting starts.

Your job as a meeting moderator is to get the best out of the people in that meeting, and music allows people to viscerally shift into a new headspace. It also has been proven to get people more engaged from the beginning--it allows people to think with more of their cerebral cortex, as opposed to their reptilian brain.

If people go in thinking they're just going to be grilled--"what did you do, what was wrong?"--then they're not in a receptive place to focus on the meeting.

3. Say "hello"

If you're the person who is moderating the meeting, greet people by name as they walk in.

It makes a world of difference to say, "Hi Alex, thanks for coming. How are you doing today?"

It's such a small thing, but it gets people much more present, and it makes them feel valued from the get-go,.

4. Start by reviewing action items from the last meeting

An important part of your agenda is to review the action items that were assigned to individuals during your last meeting on the topic.

This doesn't have to be too involved: Just go around by name and check off what was accomplished.

Then address the content of this meeting. Ensure that everyone present has a role and is assigned a section of the meeting--in other words, make sure everyone is aware of what their role is. Reviewing action items gets people oriented around results and demonstrates that you're making progress.

5. The perfect meeting length

Starting on time (whether or not everyone is present) and sticking to the agreed end-time is another key to running a great meeting.

Ideally, meetings are shorter than ninety minutes, because that is the ideal amount of time that the mind can effectively focus on a subject before needing a break.

If your meeting needs to be longer than ninety minutes, then you have to schedule a break.

The way you do that as the facilitator is by gently nudge anyone who may be at risk of running overtime, and by having a "parking lot."

A parking lot is a place where you put any important items or issues that come up in the discussion that are not pertinent to the verb or to the outcome of that particular meeting.

They're things that absolutely should be discussed, and require follow-up, but are not what you're there to talk about that day. Include those topics in the action items for the next meeting.

6. After the best meeting ever

Ideally you will have had a note-taker--even if it's you as the facilitator--who will send out the action items to everyone who was present. Use whatever system your company prefers (maybe they go out over email, Slack, Trello or some other form of communication).

And that will set you up to have the best meeting ever all over again, next time.

Published on: Dec 6, 2016