Meetings can be notorious for being too long, occurring too often or just be plain unproductive. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little bit of planning and structure, you can make meetings better for everyone.

Create a real-time agenda

It’s common to want to get all items identified but if you aren’t getting the response from people ahead of time, ask for agenda items at the beginning of the meeting. People will already be thinking about what they want to ask or discuss, so be open to their thoughts. Also, it reduces the possibility of people bringing up new topics in the middle of the discussion and you’re less likely to get off track.

Begin with objectives

The most common meeting deterrent is meeting group members not being clear on the meeting’s objective. If they aren’t sure why they are there or what they are meant to accomplish, conversations will be all over the place and nothing will get done. Another is if you clearly articulate a goal that is reasonable for the amount of time scheduled, people will be better guided in their input especially if you keep reinforcing it throughout the meeting. If the meeting gets derailed, you can always point back to the objective and get people back on track.

End with action items

Another meeting killer is not giving people clear action items when it’s over. People will come out of it and have no sense of purpose or value. Even if there isn’t a clear workflow for next steps, at least try to leave your group with a question to answer or a concept to think about for the next time. If there’s some type of “homework” tied to the meeting, there will be a clear understanding of why the meetings are happening in the first place.

Appoint a timekeeper

It takes a lot to juggle a full meeting agenda and facilitate a discussion amongst a group. You can easily lose track of time if you aren’t careful. If you know your agenda items beforehand, assign a specific time frame you’d like each topic to last. Then, assign someone other than yourself to keep track. That way, you’ve got more members involved in the meeting and are more likely to stick to your schedule.

Use the right tool

There are so many tools, apps and software that can help you stay on track. Find the right program that works for you when taking notes, tracking actions and/or just organizing information. Whether it’s OneNote, Evernote or Word, understand that technology can be a productivity booster when used the right way.