There are more than 11 million of them per day, more than three billion per year,  in the United States, according to a University of Arizona study.

Meetings

Estimates of their expenses range from $30 million to more than $100 million per year, and productivity losses due to them are estimated between $54 million and 3.7 billion annually, according to study by Tulsa University.

According to a survey by MCI Conferencing, most professionals admit that they do the following during them: daydream, 91 percent; miss parts of what’s been said, 95 percent; bring other work to do during them, 73 percent.

The National Statistics Council reports that an average of 37 percent of employee time is spent on them, and its study shows that set agenda items are covered in only 53 percent of the scheduled time, with the remaining time usually labelled as “unproductive.”

“They” are meetings. They can disrupt your day and can waste your time.  Make it a goal for 2014 to have fewer and better meetings. Here’s how:

Here’s how to have fewer and better meetings

1. Have a clear objective of the meeting.  Try breaking it down to a simple infinitive statement, such as “to nominate the new board slate” or “to approve a new slogan.” Set an agenda to keep the meeting focused on the steps it takes to accomplish that goal. In your introduction, state this objective as well as a time limit for the duration of the meeting – no more than an hour – and stick to that time.  You’ll be surprised at how a strict time limit will keep people focused.

2. Identify a clear facilitator. That MCI Conferencing study found that most professionals believe that more than half of meeting time is wasted on non-related topics. It needs to be clear at the outset who is in charge of running the meeting. This person does to have to be the CEO, but he or she does have to be someone who has the knowledge and authority to move the meeting along effectively.

The main role of the facilitator is to keep the conversation on track, to make sure one person does not dominate the discussion and that other adjunct subjects are diverted to another place or time.  The facilitator is someone who, for lack of a better word, has backbone.

Certain personalities can run right over a weak facilitator and then bring the discussion around to a completely different topic. A skilled facilitator will be able to politely interrupt an individual who has gotten off topic and steer the conversation back to the stated objective.

3. Assign a note-taker.  Make it clear that the meeting secretary does not need to take down every word that is said. However, this person does need to know enough about the organization and the objective of the meeting to record what is important. Many meetings bog down when no one volunteers for this position.  Have it decided before-hand, and, if necessary, rotate the job so that one person does not feel burdened with it. Make it clear to the secretary when and how copies of the notes should be distributed to attendees.

4. End the meeting with a clear summary of what has been covered. Re-state any action items for the group. Make sure you allow enough time for this important – often the most important — part of the meeting. Keep track of your time so that the summary is not rushed as people head out the door.

5. Follow up with attendees. Send an e-mail to attendees within two to three days of the meeting asking for feedback and including any attachments that were discussed.  Ask whether or not the attendees found the meeting valuable and ask what could have made the meeting better.  This follow-up is especially important for standing meetings. If you get negative feedback, the frequency of the meetings may need to be changed or the format altered. There is a chance you can discontinue a standing meeting altogether.

Another way to make meetings go more smoothly is to cut down on “presentation” time. Plan for any material to be e-mailed to your staff members well ahead of meeting time. Whether it is a video or a chart or a slide share, give you employees the chance to review the information at their own pace. Gone are the days when everyone had to gather together to watch a video. Use your time together to discuss the information rather than to watch it.

Despite all the advances of technology, there still is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. Even global companies that rely on virtual meetings much of the time still plan real in-person contact for key decisions. Meetings are where we can discuss a situation or a problem and plan a course of action. Meetings are also where new staff members can learn about the company and its culture and how to make a valuable contribution.

By following these simple rules, you can make the meetings you do hold more effective for everyone involved.