Not all meetings are created equal -- nor should they be treated that way. The less tense the mood, the more productive it will be: encouraging everyone to open up and be their most authentic selves is a surefire way to get those creative juices flowing.

Eleven entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) share their best advice for holding meetings in a unique way that keeps your team feeling empowered and inspired.

1. Starting and Ending With a Joke

We start our meetings with an ice breaker -- usually a funny quote or anecdote delivered by our CTO. To end, a team member shares a particularly humorous sales or operations story from the week prior. It builds camaraderie and helps to ensure the meeting in the middle remains as it should: casual, effective and engaging.--Blair Thomas, First American Merchant

2. Doing a Breathing Meditation

We do a five-minute breathing meditation before starting meetings. This way everyone has a calm, clear mind ready to focus. In addition, we have an alarm that we set up with the maximum time the meeting should run. Once the alarm goes off, the meeting is done. No excuses. The combination keeps everyone focused and on-task.--Marcela DeVivo, Homeselfe

3. Using M&Ms

Of course, the person running the meeting should be engaging enough to keep everyone's attention. However, if you're reviewing highly technical data, the M&M philosophy encourages active listening. Give each attendee a bag of M&Ms. When a specific word or concept is mentioned, they eat an M&M. You may also differentiate colors with different topics of discussion.--Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now

4. Describing Ourselves in One Word

We begin our meetings by describing ourselves in just one word. This is a quick and silly exercise that sets the pace for the rest of the meeting. Although we discuss ourselves in more detail later on when we tell our "good news" and the real-life examples that demonstrate our core values, this one-word start to the meeting gets everyone involved. We put a "human" aspect back into meetings.--David Tomas, Cyberclick

5. Hitting the Green

When we need to work out a tricky problem, our team heads to the indoor putting green. This allows our team members a moment away from the desk or conference room to get the blood flowing and share ideas in a casual environment.--Chuck Cohn, Varsity Tutors

6. Adding Pop Quizzes

Lately, I've noticed a number of pop quizzes happening where department managers are testing the knowledge of their team. From the "shout out the answer if you know it" approach to formal exams using Google Forms, quizzes sharpen the skills of the staff and ensure that vital knowledge is absorbed. Plus, identified skill gaps make for excellent training material at the next team meeting. -David Ciccarelli, Voices.com

7. Including Meeting Trivia

During staff meetings I'll randomly quiz the entire staff on something already discussed or reported during the meeting, or even just fun company trivia (i.e. "What's the name of Tim's cat?"). The first person to answer correctly gets a gift card. You would be surprised how well people stay engaged when a $10 iTunes gift card is at stake.--Zach Binder, Ranklab

8. Using Humor

Most meetings are cold and well, non-human. After all, it's business, right? Wrong. The best way to keep people engaged and alert? Make them laugh. Entertain while you inform. Relate. In fact, according to one study, "humor patterns triggered positive socioemotional communication, procedural structure, and new solutions." So throw in a meme and crack a joke.--Robby Berthume, Bull & Beard

9. Encouraging Note Taking

In our meetings, we usually hand out pens and paper so that people feel compelled to take notes. We have realized that not only does this practice ensure better documentation and thus improve outcomes; it also helps improve concentration by taking attention away from cell phones and other possible distractions.--Pratham Mittal, VenturePact

10. Adding Song

If everyone is starting to drag and I can sense that the overseas employees are starting to browse the Internet, I make everyone sing their updates. It sounds horrible, but it gets some laughs, and keeps people on their toes.--Joel Butterly, InGenius Prep

11. Moving the Meeting Outdoors

There's been some great days where it's just too distracting to be in a conference room. No one wants to be in there. One day, when it was really sunny, I suggested we reconvene outside and carry on from there. Often, when the weather is great, we just hold the meeting outside. Everyone likes the fresh air and tends to look forward to these meetings now.--Drew Hendricks, Buttercup

Published on: Mar 21, 2016