It appears the average meeting is messed up. It doesn’t have a purpose, which leads attendees to feeling unfocused and stressed. Meetings occur too infrequently or too often. They are too rigid or too loose. And since even Zoom and Skype meetings are where business is getting done right now, these virtual meetings must have the essential ingredients attendees are craving.

Here is the latest research on meetings, along with suggestions about ways to improve the process.

Short-term, Unproductive and Running Late

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, a survey of of 187 enterprise executives found:

  • Top management spends 21 hours a month in team meetings, of which only 20 percent of the time is devoted to long-term strategy.
  • Each meeting is generally less than 4 hours in length.
  • Only 12 percent believed their meetings consistently produced critical strategic decisions.
  • 5 percent had a process for developing a valuable, attendee-focused agenda. This often led to meetings running late and vital strategic issues left unaddressed.

A recent British Psychological Society poll found that $37 billion could be lost annually due to unproductive meetings.

Last, Wacom surveyed 1,000 people about their thoughts regarding meetings. Here is what they found:

  • 57 percent felt their meetings were unproductive.
  • 43 percent admitted they tuned out in meetings, often working on other projects while in them.
  • 37 percent believed meetings would be more engaging if laptops were not allowed into them.
  • 21 percent confessed they had fallen asleep in a meeting.

So…What is the Solution?

Given all this feedback, it looks like the future of meetings is dim. But it doesn’t have to be. Follow these suggestions, and your sessions will become much more productive with a measurable outcome, every time.

1. Conduct longer strategy meetings.

Longer meetings need to be dedicated to the long-term vision of the company or association. Whether this is monthly, quarterly or annually, these meetings are valuable. While the ideal is an off-site for one to two days, similar focus can be delivered in a virtual meeting with breaks to give some much-needed time away from staring at the boxes on the screen.

2. Decide on your intended outcome.

Meetings should serve one of three purposes:

    1. Information and education
    2. Debate and discussion
    3. Decision

While you can cover all three in a meeting, attendees are more engaged when they know only one of these areas will be addressed and what is expected of them in advance of the meeting.

3. Create a prioritized plan.

Once you know the desired outcome, create an agenda that meets that outcome. Remember, individuals have a limited time to give to you before they “check out.” This is even more true in virtual meetings. If the discussion hits the essential items in descending order, no one will care if the last few things are left on the table.

One way to create a better agenda is to ask for input about the priorities of the attendees. A crowdsourcing app gathers pertinent information that attendees want to discuss, decide or hear about at your next meeting. They then vote on the ideas presented. The top vote-getters set the priority for the schedule, and your session now becomes theirs.

4. Hire a focused facilitator.

Let’s say your intended outcome is debate and discussion, with a vote on the topic of discussion tomorrow. It is easy for attendees to get off track or have a few individuals dominate the conversation. While it is vital to have a spirited debate, an excellent facilitator will bring the group back to the topic and encourage all attendees to participate.

5. Ask for feedback.

Ask questions like, “Are we on track? Or “Are we meeting your objectives? If no, what should we be doing?” Then switch it up to meet the attendees’ desires.

6. Keep the meeting engaging and fun.

While you will have serious agenda items, be sure to give attendees plenty of breaks to network with others, and have fun. Provide healthy activities, like walking, yoga, stretching, and meditation. Even in a video streaming meeting, including breathing exercises in the agenda is a great way to help people focus.

In summary, by following these six suggestions, you should be able to reduce stress, increase productivity and create an element of fun at your next meeting that will leave attendees more engaged and feeling things were accomplished at the the time everyone clicks “leave the meeting.”

De-de Mulligan is president and chief content strategist for Mulligan Management Group. As a former meeting planner who has received Ohio MPI’s Planner of the Year award twice (2006 & 2012), she brings a unique perspective to this blog post.  You can find her on Twitter @DedeMulligan or LinkedIn.