Business meetings can provide an opportunity to introduce new concepts, establish business objectives, develop strategies and tactics, and make the most of the expertise of the company team. However, meetings may also be a waste of time. Meetings for the sake of having meetings may make you look busy and feel busy, but they can be distractions and time wasters for attendees who have other work to perform.

So, how do you increase business productivity with meetings that matter – that change and improve business conduct?

Here are some tips on how to make meetings matter and produce useful results.

1. Create an agenda. Before calling a meeting, ask yourself “why?” What is the objective of the meeting? Objectives can include developing a plan of action, setting of business objectives, introducing new procedures, and a host of other topics. Then work backward from the desired outcome to develop a list of points that lead to the completion of the meeting’s objective. At that point you can create an agenda: a list of talking points that define the objective of the meeting and move attendees toward the desired objectives.

2. Set a time limit. Meetings that run for hours may start to lose value, as participants tire of listening, taking notes, debating, and just plain thinking. Meetings should be kept to a maximum of 50 minutes, leaving 10 minutes of each workday hour to respond to calls and emails and conduct other business. These 10 minutes also give participants the opportunity to think about how to integrate key points from the meeting into activity while these points are still fresh in their memories.

3. Direct the discussion. Keep the focus of the meeting on the agenda to deliver the results you expect, and direct discussions toward meeting those objectives. Don’t let discussions get sidetracked into non-related issues. This may require you to create a “parking lot” for off-topic issues that can be addressed at another time.

4. Include all stakeholders in the meeting. Meetings can be more productive when all attendees are stakeholders. Include top-tier officers, but also include employees who actually perform the work under discussion. For example, the manager of shipping and receiving often has a clearer picture of problems than the COO and, as such, can offer practical suggestions for improving performance.

5. Avoid “spontaneous” meetings. Meetings held “on the fly” may disrupt schedules and throw off work output for that day. They also don’t provide attendees time to plan their talking points and to offer useful suggestions. Provide at least 24 hours’ notice before holding a company meeting to give employees an opportunity to pull together notes, data and other valuable information useful to the objectives of the meeting itself.

6. Use technology wisely. PowerPoint® presentations convey a lot of information in an easy-to-understand, visual format. They also take time to create. Simply because technology is available doesn’t mean it has to be used. Use tech wisely. For example, hook up a remote site feed to allow distant employees to “attend” the meeting and offer suggestions, but only if the participation of these distant colleagues furthers the objectives of the meeting.

7. Avoid distractions. Turn off all cell phones and ask gatekeepers to hold all calls until the meeting is over. Determine that the focus of all attendees is squarely on your agenda, not on some other business or personal activity.

8. Create a comfortable environment. Arrange seating around a conference table, for example. If you sit behind your desk, a figure of authority, the desk becomes a barrier to a more open discussion. Make sure the temperature isn’t too hot or cold, offer water and refreshments to keep participants engaged and happy, and schedule rest room breaks for longer meetings.

9. Open the meeting by describing its objectives. “Why are we here?” Make sure all participants understand the agenda and the expected outcomes of the meeting in order to maintain the focus of the discussion.

10. Evaluate the success of each meeting. Take a few minutes after each meeting to prepare a written evaluation of what was accomplished. What was discussed? What decisions were made? What actions are required and by which participants? Disseminate your evaluation of the meeting to all participants. This can eliminate the need for each participant to take notes during a meeting and keeps them focused on what you and other attendees say during this important time.

Smart managers make meetings matter and, thus, increase company productivity. Improve your leadership skills by holding meetings with a set agenda and clearly defined objectives.

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.