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10 Ways to Turn Useless Meetings Into Productive Ones

We’ve all had to sit through meetings that were nothing but a waste of time. But how do you improve a meeting that you didn’t organize and do not control?

Here are some tactics you can use to salvage something productive from those meetings that drag on forever or go completely off the rails. These tips will help you make each meeting an effective, interesting experience.

1. Know why the organizer called the meeting.

In this era of too much email and not enough time, agendas seem almost quaint. So don’t wait around for one. Instead, take a moment to contact the meeting organizer ahead of time and ask him to explain to you, in 10 words or less, what he or she wants from the meeting.

2. Know what you want from the meeting.

Before the meeting begins, set yourself one action item you absolutely need to accomplish with this group of people at this time. And select an action item that is compatible with the organizer’s goal if you want the meeting to be a success.

3. List what you need to say.

Use the idle time at the beginning of the meeting, when people are making coffee or taking a quick phone call, to jot down a list containing five things related to the action item you want to share. Writing things down helps focus your thoughts, even if you don’t use the list.

4. Take meeting minutes.

Do you ever spend the first 10 minutes of a meeting trying to remember what happened in the last one? Break this cycle by taking minutes. You don’t need every little detail; record assigned action items, decisions made and key information or discussion questions.

5. Keep to the rules of order.

In a perfect world, we’d all respect each other’s time. But in the real world, we need ways to stay organized and on track. You should know the meeting ground rules, and if your organization doesn’t have any, make some. Share them with others and follow them.

6. Reflectively listen during information meetings.

Just because a meeting is filled with boring status updates doesn’t excuse you from finding something useful to do. The meeting organizer obviously feels there’s a reason you need this information, so take the opportunity to practice your reflective listening skills.

7. Set things aside.

It never fails: In every meeting, someone derails the discussion with a host of tangents. Don’t be this person. Before you interject, ask yourself: Is this really the right venue? Unless it’s a brainstorm session where all ideas are welcome, set it aside for a later conversation.

8. Ask for action items.

The meeting ends, and...then what? Ask the meeting organizer for action items as the meeting starts to wind down. If needed, ask what your specific next steps should be. If you’ve been taking minutes, point out action items that need assigning.

9. End the meeting on time.

Since you’ve already gotten a 10-word-or-less description of the meeting goal from the organizer, you have ammunition to leave a meeting that gets stuck in a quagmire. Ask the organizer if you’ve reached the goal, and if not, help everyone get to it. If yes, you can leave.

10.Ask questions afterward.

If you have questions for someone in the meeting, make a list of those questions before you arrive. And rather than wasting time disrupting the meeting, find that person when you’re finished to get answers.

With these 10 tips, you can participate in a meeting rather than just attend. Actively participating reduces stress levels during the meeting, and it gives you some control over what happens next.

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