by Steve Adubato, PhD

Be honest, meetings can be the worst. Most of them are boring and, too often, a waste of time. But it doesn't have to be this way. Meetings can be productive, engaging and something we actually look forward to. Don't believe it? Consider these 10 secrets to better meetings:

1. Only invite those who need to be at a meeting.
I know people who call everyone in their organization to virtually every meeting. This approach is rude and inconsiderate of people's time and energy. It turns people off and de-motivates them. Think about it. Who needs to be at a particular meeting and what do they have to contribute? More people at a meeting is rarely merrier.

2. Think about whether you really need a meeting!
Too many meetings that aren't needed take place anyway. Before calling a meeting ask yourself, "Can we deal with this issue in another way?" It could be a phone conversation, a face-to-face conversation with a particular individual or an e-mail. Most meetings aren't necessary. It's just that some people think meetings are a cure-all. They're not. Don't meet just to meet.

3. Have a "goal-oriented" agenda for every meeting.
Put that agenda in writing and hand it out. There is nothing worse than getting together for a meeting and not being sure what the heck you're supposed to be trying to accomplish. Preparation for a meeting is critical.

4. The agenda for a meeting should be realistic.
Don't put a zillion items on the agenda. You won't get through them. People will begin to count the agenda items and try and figure out how long the meeting will take. A long agenda wears people out. Fewer items dealt with in a realistic fashion are preferable to a laundry list of items you rush through. If word gets out that you run brief meetings in which things are actually accomplished, most people won't grumble when you call a meeting.

5. The meeting leader or facilitator should set the tone from the beginning.
Start each meeting with an upbeat, positive attitude. Make it your business to greet each meeting participant by name ("Hi Jim. How's it going?") as they walk into the room. Shake hands. Make "small talk." Be warm and personable. Smile. Let them know you appreciate their being there. This approach is particularly important for meetings with an especially serious agenda.

6. Arrange the meeting room so that everyone can see the other participants.
I like to use a round table or a semi-circle arrangement. This promotes eye contact and more personal interaction.

7. Stay on track.
So many meetings get side tracked because the leader allows participants to go off on tangents. Worse, the leader goes off on tangents. Remind participants what you are there to accomplish. Set boundaries for discussion, but not with an iron fist. Say, "That's a great point Bob. But time is limited and we need to get back on track. Maybe we can discuss your point in private or at another meeting."

8. As the meeting leader, you should be an active listener.
Pay attention to each person's comments and acknowledge their participation--"Mary, your point is well taken. I think it helps us see the situation in a different light. Thanks."

9. So what exactly are participants supposed to do when the meeting ends?
It is critical that you summarize the decisions reached during the meeting. Make it clear what action is to be taken. This cuts down on people going off with different interpretations of what happened during the meeting. It also validates the meeting and reminds people that you don't call meetings just to meet.

10. Tell participants how long the meeting will last.
Start on time and end on time. People will really appreciate that.

I hope these meeting tips help. As always, I want to hear from you. What advice do you have for running better, more productive meetings? Any sticky questions or issues about the meetings you hold in your workplace, at home or in your community? Your input makes me a better coach.