Five ways to tame out-of-control meetings

We've all been there — staff meetings that seem longer than "Gone With the Wind."

Not only are they often bad for morale, they can also easily stray into diminishing-returns territory.

Here are some tips on making meetings more to the point:

•Set goals: By knowing what you want to accomplish, you can streamline the agenda, said Susan M. Heathfield,'s human resources expert. "The goals you set will establish the framework for an effective meeting plan."

•Distribute materials ahead of time: Giving employees handouts, charts and graphs a day or so before the meeting allows everyone to come ready for discussion. "The more preparation time you allot, the better prepared people will be for your meeting," Heathfield said.

•Decide how long to meet: Set a time limit for meetings and stick to it, said Ken Ross, founder of ExpertCEO. "That way people know what to expect, they can plan accordingly, and you can develop a rhythm for the meetings."

•Make it a "standing" meeting: If no one is allowed to sit, meetings tend to be shorter and participants get to the point quicker. "The tendency to sit back and reiterate points dwindles as people get weak in the knees," said Scott Belsky, author of "Making Ideas Happen."

•Finish strong: At the end of every meeting, Belsky said, go around the room and review the action steps, each person's assignments going forward. "The exercise takes less than 30 seconds per person, and it almost always reveals a few action steps that were missed," he said.

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