Ah, the standard work meeting: a staple of the business world intended to foster communication and to keep everyone in the loop. They're important to startups and Fortune 500 companies alike, but do they always work as well as they should? Data suggests they do not.

Our recent study, the State of Video Conferencing, found that getting meetings started was the most common meeting challenge. More than 50% of video conferencing users are wasting nearly 10 minutes per meeting on meeting setup. When you don't start on time, you lose discussion time and the focus of the group you've gathered. Just imagine what you could be doing with ten extra minutes!

And it's not just our data that backs this up. A study by the University of North Carolina surveyed 182 senior managers in different industries about their meetings and the results showed that:

  • 71% of them found their meetings to be unproductive and inefficient.
  • 65% said that meetings keep them from completing their own work.

That's a large percentage of senior managers that find meetings as nuisances that don't provide value. In fact, it's estimated that unproductive meetings cost companies up to $37 billion per year.

With all this data in mind, what can you do about it? Are there ways to improve the productivity of your meetings and keep engagement high? Yes! Keep reading for our best ideas for getting the most out of your meetings.

1. Assign a meeting leader.

Having a designated person be in charge of setting an agenda and keeping the meeting on track is important. Sure, Brenda in accounting's story about her recent rock climbing excursion is interesting, but it isn't doing much more than distracting others about the actual purpose of the meeting. A meeting leader can move the discussion along and not allow it to get bogged down with pointless chatter.

2. Set an agenda.

Every meeting needs to have an agenda decided beforehand. This ensures everybody knows what the discussion topics or metrics will be. Making up your agenda on the fly is a great way to waste the time of your employees, so don't do it. Having a meeting leader also helps ensure that you'll have a purpose and intent behind every meeting.

3. Set time limits.

If you schedule a one-hour meeting, have a one-hour meeting. If your meetings regularly go way past the scheduled time, chances are you're not running them efficiently. Block out a set number of minutes to each discussion point and keep to that limit.

4. Only invite the right people for the meeting.

Oftentimes a business will have a department-wide meeting, but certain teams must sit through it while nothing pertinent to them is discussed. This wastes those people's time and takes them away from the work they should be doing.

5. Structure your meeting.

Within your agenda topics, you should structure how the meeting will progress. For instance, for a given topic, you may want to present an overview of the situation, go over any data, have a discussion, then make decisions. Structuring the meetings out like this will reduce people going on tangents, and if there are time limits to each step, you will have a timely, productive meeting.

6. Have a video conferencing software for your remote employees.

Not only will this keep your remote employees feeling more engaged, but it's also 60% less expensive than having all employees in office for the meeting. Video conferencing software effectively links your remote and in-office teams, and will increase the ease of collaboration and quality work created by teams. You'll no longer leave your remote teams out of the loop when it comes to the weekly stand-up.

7. Have your audiovisual systems prepared.

What's the point of having remote members conference in for a meeting if you're going to waste 15 minutes at the start just getting the hardware and software configured? Have a solution with an easy setup, and have it ready before the meeting starts. Some audiovisual systems are less complicated than others, such as the Meeting Owl Pro. All you have to do is plug it into your laptop that's running the meeting and start.

Learn more about the Meeting Owl >>

8. Plan accordingly.

There's no logic to setting time limits and having set agendas if you didn't plan correctly. Having a big discussion topic in a meeting with a dozen people is not going to get done in five minutes. Be realistic and still allow people to discuss and be heard.

9. Think about what's necessary.

Companies often have a few weekly meetings regardless of whether or not there are enough discussion topics to fill the time. If you find that the information that would be presented in a meeting could just as easily be emailed out to people instead, then email it! Cancel recurring meetings if they're not going to be helpful.

10. Have a dedicated note-taker.

We've all had it happen: We don't feel like taking notes on something because we assume we'll remember it later. Then, later comes and that information has fluttered off into the ether, never to be heard from again. Have someone take meeting notes and email them out to attendees afterward. The business world moves quickly and there's only so much room in our brains to store information. Give everyone a break by documenting your meetings.

11. Take breaks if necessary.

Most meetings should last around 30 minutes, but if your meeting is longer you should schedule a break at the midpoint. This allows your team to stay focused on the tasks at hand, without losing focus. If an hour or longer meeting doesn't include a break, participants minds wander and start thinking about when they get to leave. A quick five minute break will keep your team refreshed and ready to focus on the topic of discussion.

12. Specify deliverables for your next meeting.

If this meeting is reoccurring, save time for everyone by following up with deliverables. By specifying what you need from everyone next time, people won't have to scramble to think of they were supposed to work before your meeting. it'll also keep clear what is to be discussed, and save time from having to update documents while the meeting is running.

13. Don't be afraid to say no to meetings.

You might feel bad for declining a meeting, but some meetings are better left unattended. As mentioned above, sometimes unnecessary people can be invited which keeps the discussion unproductive. If you can't provide valuable input, or the meeting will take time out of other tasks or meetings that would be more productive, click no. It'll save you and your groups time from having extra work or input that isn't needed.

Follow these guidelines and we're sure your meetings will improve considerably. You will not waste time, and your employees will be more productive. To help, we've created free meeting agenda templates to customize for your team's needs.