We’ve all been there: meetings that we expected to be dialogs but turned out to be monologues. Rambling meetings without a firm agenda. Meetings where the decisions were handed down, rather than discussed.

Whether you’re a business leader or member of a committee, meetings are a powerful tool when used to gather buy-in, brainstorm ideas, or make a difficult decision. However, when they’re run ineffectively, they can become pools of negativity, or leveraged to silence dissenting opinions.

As an auditing firm, we’re involved in several meetings every week — some more effective than others. We’ve seen good habits and outright dangerous ones and have gathered the most common ways to run them better. We hope these keys serve you well!

1. Create a Clear Agenda — and Stick to it!

Setting concrete expectations allows everyone involved in the meeting to prepare their thoughts ahead of time, which enhances the conversation quality and shortens the amount of time needed to “talk through” ideas.

One way meetings can fail to be effective is when the agenda holds no sway over the whims of a speaker’s tangents. Value other people and their time by cutting out irrelevant talk when it crops up, using the agenda to re-focus long-winded rants.

At the same time, allow people to raise concerns about items on the agenda and create space for them to bring others into their point of view. This balance is tough to strike, but effective meetings tend to have an ebb and flow that lets people talk, but only as much as necessary.

2. Keep Comments Precise and Clean

Many people are external processors, which means they like to write things out or say them aloud before evaluating if they actually believe what they’ve just put out there. Sending an outline of topics to discuss beforehand will show members of the board that their leaders care about their ideas and want to see their best come meeting time.

Looking out for the external processors is one way for leaders to help effective meetings move along, but it’s the attendees who are ultimately responsible for keeping their thoughts short and sweet.

If you’re a board member, don’t feel obligated to speak on every single topic; let others bring their ideas and only contribute when your perspective will help others see things in a better light.

3. Delegate Authority

Every board of key stakeholders consists of people with their own particular passions. This diversity allows everyone to see the effects of decisions from several viewpoints so they can make informed decisions.

Effective meetings harness these passions to empower decision-makers and reduce the administrative burden on the few full-time leaders. When leaders are slow to engage their passionate board members, the desire to make the organization better can stagnate, and both the business and stakeholders suffer.

Appoint people to serve as points-of-contact for new campaigns if they show interest. You may be surprised who answers the call.

4. Let it Flow

The leader of any meeting is responsible for keeping it to the agreed time limit, end of sentence.

Some of the most effective meetings we’ve participated in have been scheduled nearly down to the minute. Each topic and subtopic gets an allotted amount of discussion time, and the schedule is enforced as much as necessary. When there’s extra time after a particularly simple decision, it’s capitalized on by moving quickly to the next item on the agenda.

When those in charge of running a meeting enforce its progress, the people involved are more likely to feel valued. Time is an important asset; don’t take more from people than they’re willing to give.

5. Count the Opportunity Cost

The next time you sit in a meeting, glance around the room. Think about the careers each of the members has built; the time, the determination, the student loan debt. Guess how much each of them would cost by the hour (some you may already know). All of a sudden, a meeting of volunteers starts to look a whole lot more expensive than you may have thought.

Though not directly, those people are paying to be there. Rather than working that extra hour, they chose to come to your meeting.

There are many ways to express gratitude for their donation of time, one of which is to keep the meeting brief. You can also reduce the total cost by only inviting the necessary people.

For mandatory meetings, make arrangements for people who travel from far away, so they don’t have to spend all that time on the road or in the air. VOIP services like Skype and GoTo are widespread solutions to keeping people involved and engaged over long distances. Take advantage of the tools, not your people.

6. Mark the Minutes

You’d be surprised how many organizations make official, far-reaching decisions using Robert’s Rules of Order and an actual wooden gavel and yet fail to take accurate minutes. In the eyes of the law (and auditors), it’s almost like the meeting never happened.

It goes without saying that you should keep track of what you discuss in some form or another, whether brief summaries or play-by-play stenography. Assign a board member or office personnel to take notes, sign and date the minutes, and keep a copy in a safe place. This will help the decisions you make in meetings more legitimate if they are ever scrutinized.

7. Know Your People

This final key may be the most important one in the list, because the people in attendance are the most important people in the room. Each one has a different way of relating to the purpose of the meeting: some are driven to complete a task and others are there to create relationships.

Leaders must adapt their communication and expectations to include both types of people. Bring both facts and stories; statistics and feelings. Your organization is more effective with everyone on board and with everyone well-informed.

Great Leaders Run Great Meetings

The more committed you are to growing as a leader, the more effective your meetings become. We believe anyone can make a positive change wherever they are. If you want to learn more, feel free to join us as we explore tangible ways to increase our growth as leaders in our industry by following the Lemler Leadership blog!