9 Tips for Shorter and Better Meetings

Meetings are essential in business, but they're often poorly run. These tips will keep you on topic.

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Outside Voices - ''Working Girl'' aka Karen Burns
Do you hate meetings? You do? You're in good company.

The bad news: Workplaces are always going to have meetings. You may even be in charge of running them. When you are, here are nine tips for making your meetings shorter and better:

1. Announce at the beginning how long the meeting is going to last. Put a clock in plain view where all can see the minutes ticking by.

2. Maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward latecomers. Punish them in some good-natured way. Charge them a buck; make them serve the coffee. The idea is to humiliate them enough to make them change their behavior but not so much that they feel resentful.

3. Set a crystal-clear agenda, and stick to it. If other issues come up, make a note of them, and then get back to the agenda.

4. If you have droners at your meetings, establish a time limit for how long any one person can talk. Use an egg timer. Really.

5. Ban toys. No BlackBerries, iPods, laptops, or cellphones.

6. Schedule the meeting for first thing in the morning when people are more alert and still intending to get something done that day.

7. Try holding meetings standing up. Standing meetings are shorter than sitting meetings!

8. Keep the meeting room a little cold. People will be eager to finish up and get back to their more comfortable work areas.

9. Don't provide food. It's a distraction. It's messy. And who needs the calories?

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, to be released by Running Press in April 2009. She blogs at KarenBurnsWorkingGirl.com.