Anyone who’s ever worked in an office knows just how terrible meetings van be. They can interrupt workflow, disrupting your whole day, and sometimes they feel like a mere platform for the most extroverted, outspoken colleague to talk at you for an hour. Perhaps even worse, sometimes they feel like no more than a long-winded rehashing of information you’re already familiar with. It doesn’t have to be like this. Meetings are essential to a smooth-running company; unfortunately, many leaders don’t know how to use them effectively. Here are some tips on how to make them more effective.

– Meetings should be optional. Making meetings optional forces leaders to get clear on the value. By creating an explicit company policy stating all meetings are optional, you eliminate the excuses. There’s no longer any excuse to sit in a meeting doing other work. If that work is more important than the meeting, go do it! The policy makes it clear that each person is responsible for using their time well. While some people value being able to hear everything first-hand, others are happy with being given a summary or reading the minutes of meetings in which they have no direct contribution. In general, the more people there are in a meeting, the more difficult it is to keep on track and ensure everyone’s views are heard. However, if too few people attend, the meeting may not have a quorum, and thus be unable to make decisions.

– Always have an agenda. The difference between meetings with and without agendas can mean chaos, ruffled feathers and very few accomplishments. An agenda communicates to attendees that the meeting will be conducted in an orderly fashion and that productivity is the goal. Businesses hold meetings to get things done, share information, develop plans, document progress, provide clarity and make decisions. An agenda can ensure that the meeting stays on track and that special projects and routine operations proceed as intended. An agenda can help a group of employees’ function as an effective team.

– Technology is changing the way meetings are run. With technology change at such a rapid pace, we no longer rely on pen and paper, but the thousands of new devices, pieces of software and apps that are being developed. This has completely changed the face of meetings and seminars for participants, hosts and planners, helping them to do their job even better. Some of the key technology developments include:

Smartphones and tablets – you can now simply take notes on your device and quickly share them with your colleagues. These devices can also be used as a presentation tool themselves, whether they’re hand-held for small groups, or connected to a projector for a larger meeting.

Apps/Software Programs – there are a whole host of easy to use apps to download, which are perfect for meetings and seminars. For note taking, Evernote and Microsoft OneNote are great tools, and notes can even be stored in the cloud. To create presentations, try Keynote, PowerPoint or Prezi. For a video call, so you can have meetings with people around the world via Skype and Google Hangouts. Sharing is also important, so sites such as SlideShare are worth trying for your next event.

Smart boards and touch screen monitors – these exciting new technologies allow meetings and seminars to be much more interactive, with attendees getting involved by brainstorming and creating mind maps on the smart board, which can be instantly sent out to everyone’s devices.