By Ashley Stahl, Originally Published in Forbes

“Don’t say anything but…all the meetings we have feel like a waste of my time and everyone else’s.” 

This was a statement I overheard before stepping on stage to speak to a corporation’s staff about making their meetings count. And this employee isn’t alone.

Nine out of ten people daydream during meetings, and 73% of employees admit to multitasking during meetings. When you walk from meeting to meeting all day, it becomes difficult to stay present and focused, especially when the meeting isn’t effective or pertinent to your role.  

The staff I spoke to was no different. The majority spent their entire day in meetings, and felt there was no time to actually get work accomplished. And for executives, who spend upwards of 23 hours a week in meetings, it became exhausting to make difficult and large decisions for the business.

In alignment with this emotional struggle and efficiency drop, businesses across America are reported to waste $399 billion as a result of scheduling and gathering for unproductive meetings.

This meeting madness is clearly taking its toll on businesses and their employees well being. In efforts to improve work-life, here are three things you can do right now to make your meetings more productive for your company, and sanity. 

1. Host walking meetings.

According to Stanford research, walking sparks creative thinking while moving and even for a period of time after you return to your desk. When you consider that the majority of meetings are held with only two or three people, this group is easily small enough to step outside and walk, be it to a local park or cafe. 

If your office is not in a nice neighborhood, or it is raining out, that is totally fine. The research revealed that walking indoors, even on a treadmill staring at a blank wall sparked far more creative solutions and thoughts compared to someone sitting down. If you have a gym on-site, hop on the treadmills and talk it out.

Not only are you getting your creative juices flowing, but also you are actively staying healthy. You may have heard the saying “sitting is the new smoking”, and it isn’t too far off. When you sit for prolonged periods of time you increase your risk for high blood pressure, excess body fat and increase risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.  

Stay healthy. Get creative. Start walking.

2. Make an agenda.

This might sound like trite and obvious insight, but apparently not, since only 37% of meetings today use an agenda. A meeting without an agenda is like a taxi ride without destination. When you consider this stat in comparison to all the people that feel like meetings are a waste of time…they are right.

Start by sharing the objective of the meeting on the agenda. When you can outline the intention and goal of the time spent together, it will give you and everyone else a clearer purpose. If you can’t think of an objective, perhaps you shouldn’t be having the meeting just yet. When this is the case, don’t be afraid to cancel a meeting or push it to later.

Pose the agenda topics as questions, instead of statements, to spark ideas from your team. Ideas are more productive, so long as you don’t have so many meetings that you cannot execute on them! If you need to discuss a marketing campaign for a new product instead of listing “marketing campaign,” try this: “What ideas can we pull from past product launches to create a new successful marketing campaign?”  

When you send the agenda out prior to the meeting, this tactic gets attendees already brainstorming ideas to hop right into a dynamic and effective conversation. Include in the agenda the expected duration of time for each talking point and who the key players are for having an effective conversation. This way, employees that might have a double booked schedule know whether they really need to be present.

Save time at the end of the meeting on the agenda for rounding things up, a quick review of what progress was made, and what decisions and future actions are assigned to whom. A meeting left without action steps is usually nothing but a time suck.

Always be sure to send out concise notes from the meeting for everyone that attended and also in case invitees were unavailable they can still know what happened and stay updated.

3. Ban bullet point slides from meetings.

Did you know the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than words? This means when you are hosting a meeting to convey information, conduct a training or give a project overview, video and images are far more memorable than audibly describing things or presenting visual text. 

We have all been in countless meetings or attended presentations where the presenter shares a PowerPoint slide filled with bullet points and then simply reads directly from the slide. Boring! It’s safe to say, everyone in the room knows how to read, and if this isn’t a waste of people’s time I don’t know what is. In fact, wordy slides are a distraction for listeners.

Instead, transition this content into the notes section of the presentation and share it out via email either before or after the meeting ends. Replace this content with images, pictures or demonstrations. Since 65% of the population are predominantly visual learners, this method will quickly grasp the majorities’ attention. 

Keep the meetings visual, specific and short when possible. Research indicates that a meeting over 50 minutes will become difficult for even the most focused people to stay present. If you can get through the agenda in under an hour, don’t drag it out just for the sake of having a room for the hour. Give your employees time back to take a break and prepare for the next meeting or task at hand.

I shared these tips and more with the corporation I spoke to earlier this year, and they have reported back with happier, healthier and more focused teams.  

It takes effort to spark change in a corporation, but when you take time to improve how your meetings operate, you will not only be saving your company money, but you will be improving the overall experience of your employee’s workday.  

Don’t hold out, make the changes now.

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  • I'm a career coach, keynote speaker, podcast host (You Turn Podcast) and author, here to help you step into a career you're excited about and aligned with. This may look like coaching you 1:1, hosting you in one of my courses, or meeting you at one of workshops or keynote speaking engagements! I also own CAKE Media, a house of ghostwriters, copywriters, publicists and SEO whizzes that help companies and influencers expand their voice online. Before being an entrepreneur, I was an award-winning counterterrorism professional who helped the Pentagon in Washington, DC with preparing civilians to prepare for the frontlines of the war on terror.