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Most of us love to moan and groan about business meetings that waste our time. Let's face it: Meetings are a necessary part of business—face-to-face communication and collaboration keep the team on track.

Yet, problem meetings continue unless employees step up and fix them. Readers share helpful ideas to cut the dread and improve meeting usefulness. Maybe you can start looking forward to them again.

Current Marketing Challenge

I dread our weekly staff meetings

Every Wednesday, seven other managers, VPs, and I are required to attend an executive staff meeting at our company. For years, our president has been doing these to keep us informed and talk about current projects, new business, problems, sales trends, etc.

It sounds productive, but it isn't. The meetings never start on time, people stroll in late, answer their cells phones, and there's much socializing. When the meeting finally starts, it's haphazard at best. Some people monopolize the conversation and topics; important things are often never discussed.

Sometimes, I feel like standing up and saying, "C'mon, let's get down to business; we all have work to do." But I don't. I know the president thinks these meetings are worthwhile. If they were better organized, I think they could be very productive and not just two-hour "bull sessions" or ego builders.

How do readers organize their meetings? I need help in getting ours on track. Any tips would be appreciated.

—R.W. (company name withheld)

Some meetings get stalled out by people who say too much without making a point. Other meetings just don't seem to go anywhere. Fortunately, readers provide three steps you can take to turn unproductive meetings into successful ones:

1. Set ground rules

2. Distribute an agenda

3. Use a facilitator to keep the meeting on track.

Set ground rules

Even if the meetings have been going for some time, it's never too late to set ground rules. Perhaps the facilitator could explain that it's time to do a review and set up rules with everyone's input.

A reader who experienced this problem—and the meetings were her idea—established two rules: (1) Meetings must end by a specific time; (2) anyone who is late must put $10 into the late lunch fund, which is used to buy lunch for everyone when there's enough money.

Next Marketing Challenge

How to avoid being a voicemail stalker.

Click here to offer your advice or here to ask a question.

One rule that everyone should follow: Cancel the meeting if there's not a good reason for it. "By having a generally pointless meeting where people babble on about nothing, you are setting a bad precedent," says a reader.

Distribute an agenda

Creating and distributing an agenda works well for many organizations. Not everyone distributes them before the meeting occurs, but that could make a difference, as participants know what to expect and when they should speak up. If something of interest isn't on the agenda, attendees can notify the meeting facilitator to request an addition.

Kwadwo Poku, assistant director of admissions with Georgetown College, says sending the discussion topics in advance provides attendees with the opportunity to brainstorm before the meeting and come prepared. "Another option is not to meet every week. He/she can email everybody on a weekly basis but call for a meeting when it's REALLY necessary," Poku says.

Luke Zukowski, owner of Reveal Research Inc., recommends working with another person who also thinks meetings need fixing. "Together make a list of all the problems, create a short solutions list that includes a suggestion to have a different person prepare the agenda and run the meeting every week."

Another way to keep people's attention is to clearly define on the agenda how much time each topic should receive. One reader sends an agenda the day before the meeting and requires any feedback by that same afternoon. An agenda "establishes which issues are discussion or brainstorming items, as opposed to topics that simply require an update or report. This saves a lot of time because people know they can't blab on forever on unimportant stuff," the reader says.

Use a facilitator to keep the meeting on track

Sometimes all a meeting needs is a strong facilitator to prevent the meeting from being a time waster. The facilitator should keep the meeting moving and table any unrelated or lengthy discussions for another time.

Rotating the facilitator gives everyone a chance to gain meeting management skills that can apply to other parts of the job. It also helps them learn how to deal with people who don't follow the ground rules.

Meetings may have gotten out of control, but they're necessary and benefit all when run properly. They are opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and bond with staff and peers. Since everyone is busy, meetings must be run efficiently and within a practical timeframe. Adhered-to ground rules, an advance agenda, and a good facilitator go a long way to make meetings more productive.

Next Marketing Challenge: Can You Help?

Help! I don't want to be a voicemail stalker

I'm having trouble getting callbacks from a few potential clients. I leave a number of messages in their voice mailboxes, yet they don't call me back. I offer a great service that I know will help them, if only I could speak with them about it.

What advice can readers provide on techniques and strategies to get them to call me back? I don't want to be a pest. Other than bombarding people with phone calls, how do readers get prospects to return their calls?

—H.B., Account Exec. (company name withheld)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.