Meetings are some of the most dreaded events on people's calendars. They're often time-consuming and irrelevant--half the attendees wonder, at some point, why they were even invited. After all, what Hank accomplished through endless rounds of A/B testing is often most interesting only to Hank himself.

By not establishing a clear purpose--and a clear reason for each person's attendance--companies everywhere run the risk of sabotaging their own productivity. HubSpot found that 76 percent of people were annoyed by meetings that seemed unnecessary. Even worse, Bain & Company revealed that across executives and their teams, one organization it studied was devoting 300,000 hours each year to one weekly executive meeting.

Why do companies willingly give so many hours to "unnecessary" meetings? Most of it stems from not knowing what a productive meeting actually looks like.

Get Out of Your Own Way

While we blame emails, missing files, and long discussions about "Game of Thrones" for ruining our productive streaks, meetings are the time wasters we inflict on ourselves. (And let's be honest: "Game of Thrones" is full of really interesting insights about human behavior.)

By instituting regular meetings with long attendee lists, we lock dozens of people into events that pull their attention away from bigger priorities. Here's how to undo the damage:

1. Get to the point. 

Before you call any meeting, it should have both a purpose and an agenda. Without knowing what you'll be talking about, you have no idea who should be there. For me, it's really hard to focus on someone who talks endlessly without getting to the point. You want to know why you're there, and everyone else in the room feels the same way.

TIME has reported that the average person's attention span is now shorter than a goldfish's. That means you have a limited amount of time to capture people's attention--and keep it. Be transparent; don't be mysterious. Let attendees know what changes are going to be made or what challenges you're facing. Though you may have many points to cover, lead with the main one.

2. Share a quote.

 Make a point of offering something of substance early. One thing I like to do is share a quote by someone I admire. Something about hearing a quote by a successful person really inspires me; it gets my gears going, and I start to feel motivated.

Pick something positive but relevant to your team. If they've been struggling with a project, offer a quote about overcoming obstacles; if they need focus, deliver a quote about zoning in. This will help your team feel more energetic during the meeting, and it will spark curiosity. People will want to know what else you have to say that relates to their situation.

3. Cite a statistic.

Need more substance? Offer an interesting statistic. Data provides a good way of showing where we stand in relation to others, and it can be a comforting--or motivating--factor.

But don't just say it--show it. Most people are very visual; 90 percent of the information our brain receives is transmitted visually. Seeing a statistic on an infographic is more memorable than simply hearing it. Beyond that, having something to look at, not just something to listen to, can keep people engaged.

4. Include a call to action.

 Let attendees know what they can do to help. Whether it's training people to do something differently in the workplace or simply informing them about new compliance standards, a call to action sparks people's interest. It's a clear signal of not just why they're there, but also what they can do to move things forward.

Designate tasks to employees so they feel involved. This fuels their purpose, and it ensures things get done, preventing additional meetings. If you don't have a CTA to issue when you map out your agenda, that's a trigger to question whether the meeting is truly needed. An email might be able to communicate the necessary information in a lot less time (and at a much lower cost).

5. Take questions. 

Ask people if they have any questions, and make sure to adopt an informal tone. People only ask questions when they feel encouraged (and don't feel like their questions might be seen as ridiculous). A great way to keep questions coming--but keep them anonymous--is to ask attendees to submit questions in advance. It's likely that some of their basic questions will be answered by the points you make in the meeting, but the more nuanced questions could be good fodder for the Q&A.

Early in my career, I had a manager who was impatient. His condescending tone ensured we all gave him a wide berth; people often decided they'd rather risk doing things badly than ask him a question. In the end, all that did was waste time and energy. Avoid giving off the same vibe by remaining welcoming and helpful.

Team members hate feeling like they're wasting time, and you probably hate feeling like you're talking when nobody's listening. You want an actively engaged team, and getting your team members pumped during meetings will result in a big payoff. Taking these steps may just transition your team from dreading meetings to embracing them.

Published on: Oct 28, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.