Meetings are a fact of our everyday lives, whether in businesses, organizations, and/or clubs. How well we present ourselves and our ideas and how well we work with others during meetings will determine our success in all areas of our careers and lives. Unfortunately, many meetings are boring, unproductive, and too long. As powerful presenters, how can we help to turn this around?

When should we hold a meeting? Meetings held on a routine basis — weekly, bi-monthly, monthly — are often tedious and wasteful. A meeting should be held only when it is the best way to achieve an objective. Look for the goal, the purpose, the basic reason for holding the meeting. Ask yourself and others involved: Why should we hold this meeting? What do we want to achieve at this meeting? and What do we want to achieve after the meeting is over? A meeting without a specific objective is almost certain to achieve nothing specific and will be a waste of everyone's time. Proper preparation beforehand assures meaningful meetings. Use an agenda as both a blueprint and a plan of action for every meeting. The properly put together agenda will focus the participants on the objective of the meeting and the means to achieve it. During the meeting it can be used as a guide and reference and after the meeting it will serve as a reminder of what was accomplished and what follow-up actions need to be taken. The agenda should state the objective of the meeting, the issues to be discussed, the time the meeting will begin and end, the place, the participants involved, and what is expected of each of them in meeting preparation. Careful preparation is the best way to keep any meeting on target and on time.

Every participant should come to a meeting with a brief, prepared message. By just answering other people's questions or keeping quiet, you will not be taking part in the opportunity afforded by attending a meeting. By having a concise message ready and finding a time to present it will give you a chance to command respect and understanding. Your brief message should include a "grabber" opening, a main idea, and a call for action. It shouldn't be memorized or read, but do have the facts ready (it is OK to have notes on a 3 X 5 card). It should be a subject you feel strongly about and you should find out in advance if there will be opposition to your objective. If so, you will need to consider what the opponent's main points will be and who your allies will be. Getting the right people on your side in advance will save endless time and lost causes.

Telling a personal story is the single most powerful technique in communicating your message. Under pressure at a meeting it is sometimes hard to remember what you are going to say. Not, however, when you tell personal stories. It is hard to forget your own experiences and it is fun to talk about them. It is also easy for the others at the meeting to identify with your story. Remember, it must be true — the more dramatic and humorous, the better. Again, keep it brief and to the point.

Add visual aids when they will enhance the meeting. Pictures and props can be instantly comprehended, where words are not. So decide first if the meeting room is conducive to visuals and what kind of visuals would be best to reinforce a particular point. When preparing visual aids, make sure they are truly visual — not just a lot of words — and that they will save time and hold the groups' attention. Use vivid images, careful preparation, a concise presentation, and silence during viewing and you will have made the meeting more productive for all those attending.

A successful meeting has four elements. They are firm time constraints — setting the beginning and ending times and sticking to them; preparation — of the agenda and what each participant will offer; proper presentation — viewpoints presented in a clear, concise manner within a prescribed amount of time; and control — the leader or facilitator controls the meeting with set priorities and a firm, but polite attitude from all involved.

Do you ask for written evaluations to determine the success of your meetings? Because we want to avoid meetings that lack results, it is a good idea to have participants answer the following questions:

Did we achieve the meeting objectives as stated in the agenda? If not, why not? What are three positive things can we do to improve the next meeting? What are three things we did that we should not do at the next meeting? What are the two most important things the leader can do to improve the meeting? What are the two most important things the participants can do to improve the meeting? Could we have done without this meeting? If so, how?

Follow these tips and consider the answers to the above questions, and you will have people looking forward to your meetings! You will also achieve your objectives!