Business meetings have a longstanding reputation for being unexciting, boring and a waste of time. Entertainment and stock photos characterize meetings with scenes of bored employees watching the clock, rolling their eyes and falling asleep while the presenter seems to drone on interminably.
Though the representations on TV and photos seem overdone, they're true to life. According to a recent survey by enterprise intranet company Igloo Software, about half of all employees find meetings to be unproductive. More specifically, employees are annoyed with unnecessary meetings (76 percent), meetings going off-topic (59 percent) and people repeating one another (58 percent).
"When people sense a meeting is lacking in productivity, they're less likely to retain confidence it's a good use of their time, and thus they disengage," said Amanda Milligan, a spokeswoman for Igloo Software and project manager of the survey.
It's important for managers to evaluate how they're conducting meetings — and how often — to see if it's the best for their teams, Milligan said. If your employees don't seem to get anything out of company meetings, you may want to evaluate whether you're making these mistakes. [See Related Story: Want a Better Business Meeting? Be More Prepared]
1. You lack a clear purpose or agenda
Meetings without a distinct goal get classified as "pointless" and "unnecessary" by employees.
"Meetings must have a clear purpose beyond a status report, which can be handled very well by one of the many online project management tools that are out on the market," said Stephen Sheinbaum, founder of Bizfi, a financial technology company and alternative finance provider. "Make a meeting agenda, and send it to all attendees ahead of time [so] they know what is expected of them at the meeting."
Tim Eisenhauer, president of intranet provider Axero Solutions, agreed that forgoing an agenda is a big mistake, as this often leads to lengthy, off-topic meetings.
"Keep it short," Eisenhauer said. "Have defined start and end times, and most important, have someone to lead the meeting and keep it on track."
2. You use "buzzwords"
Few things turn employees off faster than hearing corporate jargon during meetings. You may think that popular buzzwords like "synergy" and "paradigm shift" make you sound more in tune with the company's business strategy, but your team likely prefers plain-language explanations to these vague, overused phrases.
Igloo Software found that the following buzzwords irked employees most during meetings:
- Think outside the box
- Touch base
- Bring to the table
- Going forward
3. You engage in distracting behaviors during meetings
The Igloo Software survey found that employees are annoyed by distracting behaviors such as taking calls (51 percent), having side conversations (47 percent) and eating or drinking (22 percent) during meetings. You may not realize you're doing these things or the effect it has on fellow attendees, but it could be part of the reason they're tuning out.
Eisenhauer gave an example of a former colleague who loudly chewed gum during meetings.
"As soon as I saw or heard her, you could count me out," he said. "I'd focus in on the chewing and become distracted, maybe even a little hypnotized. So if something like this disengaged me, imagine the things that might be disengaging your employees."
4. You're not using tech tools properly
Although technology has made PowerPoints, screen sharing, video conferencing and other aspects of the modern meeting possible, it's not always perfect. Technological errors can and do happen — so often that 34 percent of Igloo survey respondents cited constant technical issues as one of their biggest meeting annoyances. If your video connection cuts in and out or the output monitor keeps shutting off, how can you expect your employees to stay focused? Test all meeting tools before you have to use them, and even if all goes smoothly, be prepared to run the meeting tech-free just in case something happens.
A related issue is failing to use technology effectively. Another 29 percent of respondents said they disliked meetings that use PowerPoint presentations all the time. Reading off a slideshow — and not adding any additional information — feels like a waste of employees' time because they could have just as easily read it on their own, without a meeting.
"Despite there being numerous digital and technological resources at companies' disposal, managers may not know the best ways to utilize these resources for the purposes of their meetings," Milligan told Business News Daily. "It's vital that company leaders research the options and identify how they can communicate with employees in the most straightforward, engaging way possible."
Is your meeting necessary?
Before you call a meeting in which you can potentially make the above mistakes, take a moment to think about whether you really need to have it in the first place.
"You should ask yourself whether a meeting, which can disrupt productivity, is the best way to [accomplish a goal]," Sheinbaum said. "When I want to check on the progress of some of the technology we are developing, I ask for a call or email from the team leader, not a group meeting. But when I wanted to communicate why we rebranded the company earlier this year, I gathered the entire company together at the end of the business day. If a meeting is the right solution, then you have to be sure that, by its end, you have accomplished the goal you set."
"A significant number of smaller meetings that are focused on updates or simply disseminating information can be done in collaborative spaces, which saves everyone time and removes the possibility of interruption or distraction," Milligan added. "It also helps to have an open culture that encourages people to work out loud, to expose day-to-day conversations and department workflow to make it easier to follow. Company cultures with a foundation in transparency have less of a need for frequent in-person meetings."
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.