The questioning looks, the awkward hems and haws, the unending rambling —what do all of these have in common? A meeting that has lost its way, perhaps? Though meetings are an essential part of corporate life, 46 percent of respondents say they’d rather do anything else than sit in on a status meeting. So what can you do to make sure your meeting does not induce the desire to opt for a root canal instead? Watch out for these three warning signs and nip them in the bud.

Warning sign #1: no one knows what the agenda is.

When there’s a questioning look on people’s faces as they come in, it’s time to check whether you’ve shared the agenda with the participants. While consultants like Michel Theriault suggest sharing the agenda much before the meeting, you can salvage the situation by at least stating the agenda at the onset of the meeting. This way, participants know what is expected of them from the beginning.

Warning sign #2: nobody’s talking, or everybody is.

Author and founding partner of leadership consulting firm Proteus, Erika Anderson, often spends time with CEOs whose teams don’t speak up at meetings. She discovered that the silence is often due to these reasons: participants are not given enough time to think of answers, they don’t know the context behind a question, or the presenter is dismissive of ideas and does not stop talking long enough to let others speak. Rectify these issues and the problem resolves itself. And if everybody is talking all at once, set up a system so that everyone takes turns. You could also allot a limited time to each person to bring up various points.

Warning sign #3: it’s taking far too long to get to the end.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is well known for her 10-minute meetings. Take a cue from her and enter into meetings with firm time limits. If you haven’t done that already and things start getting out of hand 15 minutes into the meeting, stop. Have a quick recap, explaining what has been covered already, what more needs to get done, and how much time there is to cover it. Then make sure that each item is covered within 5 minutes and anything that goes off topic is parked for another session to address it.

Getting a meeting off to a good start is a fine art, but even the most unproductive meetings can be salvaged with these quick hacks. Better still, use these tips to prevent a meeting dud before it happens.

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