People in suits attending a business meetingHolding effective meetings is simple, right? But avoiding common mistakes at meetings can make them more enjoyable and productive.

The following suggestions can help you improve the quality of your meetings, creating a better experience for everyone there.

Prepare beforehand
Write a detailed meeting agenda and send it to all participants at least 24 hours in advance.

It’s often helpful to write the agenda as a list of questions. People have different communication styles and process information differently. Ensuring the agenda is in everyone’s hands early allows them to prepare to participate in the discussion.

Only invite genuine stakeholders
The more people you invite, the more chaotic a meeting can become and the less chance informed voices can be heard.

So only invite the people you believe can contribute the most to the discussion at hand. Ask invitees to decline the invitation if they feel they can’t contribute to the discussion. Providing the agenda ahead of time will allow them enough time to decide if they absolutely need to attend.

Allocate enough time to each agenda item
Granted, no one wants to waste time at a talkfest. But worthwhile discussions take time. People need to share their opinions, and enough time is needed to have a meaningful discussion on the issues they raise.

Ensure a level playing field
Use equal seating to suggest equal value and ensure that everyone has a seat where they are comfortable and can communicate easily. If you spot people gathered down one end, ask them to spread out across the table.

The Chair of the meeting should briefly introduce everyone or ask them to introduce themselves. State why they have been invited to the meeting. This will help attendees understand the reason why everyone has a seat at the table.

Set ground rules
Make it clear from the start that no one must talk over another person and that others can call them out if it happens.

Be firm, but fair.
You could say: “Hold on, John. I want to make sure I understand Helen’s point before moving on.” Talk to repeat interrupters after the meeting. Reassure them their input is valued but that the meeting will benefit if their play by the rules. You could also help curb their tendency to interrupt by inviting them to take the meeting minutes.

Then explain how people can take turns in speaking. The order could move around the table, people might jump in when someone has finished speaking, or a speaking totem could be passed around. If you have remote attendees calling in, let the room know to bring them into the discussion and make it clear how they will alert the group that they want to speak.

Invite introverted people to join in the discussion by calling on them individually. And don’t forget to invite remote participants to join in, since they may find it harder to interject their comments.

Keep good minutes
After each agenda item, agree on and record the steps you need to take to implement it, set clear deadlines, and note who has been assigned to follow through. Follow ups will create a culture of accountability.

Thank everyone for their time and tell them how you valued their input to a productive meeting.

Meetings become more productive and effective, when you prepare well beforehand, invite only genuine stakeholders, allocate enough time to discuss each agenda item, encourage all to participate without interruption, and keep good minutes.