How to run better meetings

Seemingly every list about improving work productivity will take a shot at meetings: have fewer meetings, have shorter meetings, have no meetings. Collaboration solutions like Central Desktop offer a variety of ways to work together in real-time without waiting for your team’s 4:00 on Friday. But while “meetings are dead” is a catchy slogan, rumors of the meeting’s demise – as with the demise of email or rock ‘n’ roll – are greatly exaggerated.

The next time you gather your forces in the conference room, though, there are a few things you can do to boost productivity and curb frustration. Plus, in-person meetings aren’t without perks; it’s hard to deliver a box of bagels in the cloud (for now).

Have an agenda and stick to it

Super-obvious but super-important. Agendas help people plan and focus, and they let your antsy attendees know when they can expect to go to the bathroom or check their Twitter feed. Sticking to an agenda can be much, much harder than writing an agenda.

Don’t be steamrolled… even by your bosses

If you’ve assembled a small group to nail down  the details for an event you’re sponsoring, don’t let someone use it as a platform for airing random grievances, half-baked ideas or big existential questions (“Just what exactly are we doing here? Who are we?”). Leading a meeting may require telling someone in a senior position – politely and professionally, of course – to take a tangent offline. You’re not in Downton Abbey; you shouldn’t be obsequious. (If your workplace is like Downton Abbey, then by all means ignore this advice and let the lord of the manor finish his tangent uninterrupted.)

Mentally allow time for a little small talk

Big picture: it’s good if the people in your meetings  enjoy spending time with one  another. If it’s 10:01 and  everyone is riffing on the viral video of the day, it’s not the end  of the world.

Assign homework

Save time for a recap at the end so everyone is clear on marching orders and timeframes for follow-up so they can plan and prioritize accordingly.

Test your meeting environment beforehand

On behalf of every innocent victim who’s sat in a room for 15 awkward minutes of projector-fumbling or listened to hold music as a presenter figures out how to share his screen (“I swear I did this once”): test it out beforehand, set it up beforehand.

Welcome a difference  of opinion

There’s a word for groups of people who fall happily into agreement on all points: cults. In my experience, “negativity” sometimes gets conflated with “disagreement.” “Never say no” is a great rule for an improv team; it’s a much worse rule for a business. You obviously want to control any corrosive elements in your midst, but you can allow a little back-and-forth; ideas are often improved by constructive criticism.

Check most devices at the door

There are exceptions. There are people in your company who need to be in two places at once; if they go offline for an hour, their team and perhaps the whole company could spin off its axis. There are also people who feel that way about themselves, even though it’s not the case. The latter, obviously, far outnumber the former.

Invite only the right people, but don’t leave others feeling shut out

Kristen Gil, Google’s VP of Business Operations, writes that “attending meetings isn’t a badge of honor.” That should be true, but it may not be true, depending on your company and your company’s culture. If meetings are the only forum for department managers to have access to the C-suite, for instance, and there is a shroud of mystery wrapped around the goings-on in your conference room, you can’t blame people for wanting to peek over the fence, even if they are only tangentially related to the task at hand. In this case, frustration with meetings can point to a larger problem. Regardless, including squeaky wheels out of politeness isn’t the way to go; not only does it make your meeting less efficient, but it may have an unwanted domino effect, leading others to question why they weren’t included.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.