If everyone agrees that bad meetings are a colossal waste to time, what can we do to make them more effective? One study shows that poorly organized meetings cost U.S. companies more than $399 billion. But few of us need a study to illustrate that too many meetings is just plain bad.

Too many people schedule a meeting and hope for the best, rather than hatching a plan to get solid participation from their colleagues. Here are a few pro tips to make your everyday meetings more creative and impactful.

Set a respectful tone.

Setting the right tone is essential. Respect the team by starting and ending on time.

“I run meetings like a Swiss train,” says Marilyn Barefoot, of Barefoot Brainstorming. “We start, break and have lunch exactly on schedule. That leadership garners respect.” It also creates an ambiance where professionalism is expected.

Next, establish and stick to basic ground rules:

  • One conversation at a time (no sidebars).
  • No interrupting or talking over each other.
  • Practice “yes, and,” a technique from improv comedy where you actively listen and then build on ideas, rather than looking for ways to poke holes in what another person said. Tina Fey agrees on this point.
  • If you have an energetic group, introduce a “talking stick” where the person holding the stick has the floor until it’s passed to the next person. A yellow pencil is great for this.

Make it visual.

Use a white board or flip chart to display your meeting objective as the constant reminder of why you’re there. “Rather than a printed agenda, make your agenda visual to all,” says Barefoot. Along with the objective, give an indication of timing for each agenda item to give people an idea of when you’ll need to move on.

Take the visual aspect further. Design powerhouse IDEO is famous for the idea of sketching solutions to problems. Ask participants to draw a picture of the challenge or the ideal outcome. Invite them to use the white board or distribute Post-It notes.

Your team may be delighted by how stick figures can help communicate the emotional impact you are looking for. Find other ways to use drawing as a way to help colleagues think differently, and maybe get a little silly.

Guide participation to get broad input.

“I’m the conductor of the orchestra,” says master facilitator Tera Miller, creative director and partner at Ketchum. “I know when to tell the tuba to tone it down so we can hear more of the flutes.”

Miller describes her facilitation style for getting the best meeting performance out of participants as a combination of “kindness, humor, and a certain level of sass.” This approach can help create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable participating, even in the face of the team’s strongest personalities.

By coaxing more participation from everyone, you’ll make all your participants feel valued. Keep in mind that some participants might not have the self-awareness to see they are a noisy tuba, and they may need a few gentle nudges to understand the idea of sharing the floor.

Finish strong.

Because you have committed to ending on schedule, build in time for a wrap up, where you’ll refer again to your meeting objective and identify whether you’ve achieved the objective, plus naming any next steps.

“And ask people to summarize the meeting in one word or a sentence,” says Barefoot. “You want them to leaving thinking ‘Wow, I want more meetings like this.’”

Once you establish a more creative approach to meetings by helping colleagues learn what to expect and how to generate ideas together, you’ll find that you’ll get better results. Having meetings that are productive and fun is something we all want to look forward to.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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