Meetings, meetings, meetings - a necessary part of business life or a waste of time? According to a survey carried out by Epson and the Centre for Economics and Business Research, ineffective meetings cost the UK economy around £26 billion. [1] The survey revealed that SME workers believe that they spend on average four hours in meetings per week but judge that two hours and 39 minutes of this time is actually unnecessary. If these hours had, in fact, been spent more constructively, this would equate to approximately 13 million more productive hours per week - makes you think, doesn't it?

While meetings may be inevitable, there are ways that you and your colleagues can make them more interesting. Here are seven simple ways you can turn your meetings from dull to dazzling.

1. Into the great wide open

Central Park Sheep Meadow NYC

Spring has sprung (just about), so if the weather's good, and you have access to a park, garden or other outside space, why not take your meeting outdoors? Fresh air is not only good for your health; it can also make people more alert and stimulate creativity - which is great for brainstorming and problem-solving.

2. Get up, stand up

If the weather isn't so good, or it's just not possible to get outside, try having the meeting walking or standing up. Our bodies are not designed to be inactive for extended periods of time, and when our bodies get tired our minds also get tired, so standing up or moving around can help people stay focused. Standing meetings also have the added bonus of being shorter too - the longer people stand, the more uncomfortable they get, therefore the more quickly the meeting will go. The advantages of standing up go further than shorter meetings though, according to a study by Andrew Knight and Markus Baer of Washington University. [2] They compared stand-up and sit-down meetings using a mixture of observations, studies and information from body sensors, and found that participants in stand-up meetings tended to be moreengaged, creative and collaborative than their sitting counterparts.

3. Food, glorious food

belgian pastries

Food is definitely the way to your workmates' hearts, and can make for happier meetings. Depending on how long your meeting is, and what time of day it's happening, there are lots of different foodie options you can consider. For lunch meetings, you could arrange to have food delivered. Of course, you will need to cater for dietary preferences, but things like sushi, pizza, burgers, salad boxes, chilli and noodles are more exciting than simply sandwiches or crisps. For breakfast meetingsyou could consider bagels, fruit skewers, bacon and egg rolls, good quality breads, meats and cheeses, as well as tea, coffee and fruit juice. And a box of cupcakes or doughnuts will inevitably go down well too...

4. Call me maybe

Create a 'coat check' box for all mobile phones and other devices - when people arrive at the meeting, ask them to switch their phone to silent and then put it in the box. Even the White House exercises this rule - in Cabinet meetings, attendees write their names on Post-it Notes, put them on their phones, and then put their phones in a basket. No phones = fewer distractions, meaning that people stick to the agenda, making meetings quicker, and more efficient.

5. The sound of silence

silence sign

OK, so it might sound a bit strange to factor in silence to meetings, when the main point of meetings is to talk. Not so according to Alexander Kjerulf, author of Happy Hour is 9 to 5. [3] He believes that the purpose of meetings is actually to generate ideas, solutions and make decisions. Kjerulf advocates a two minute silence break, to give everyone the chance to think more deeply about the issues at hand. Some practical ways to use silence in meetings include:

    • When first discussing an issue: present all the facts without mentioning solutions. Take a two minute silent break for people to consider these facts, then when the two minutes is up, move on to the discussion.
    • When decisions have been made: allow two minutes of silence to get people to think about how they really feel about the decision.
    • When discussions get heated and emotions are running high: a two minute break, when no one speaks at all, is a useful method to cool things down.

6. Put up a parking lot

Something that often happens in meetings is that people go off-topicand it can be hard to get back on track. Whenever topics come up in your meeting that aren't directly relevant to the meeting, or which aren't top priority, put them in a metaphorical parking lot. The parking lot is simply a list of topics that you can come back to in future meetings - it could be written on a flipchart, or it could be a bunch of Post-it Notes - whatever works best for you. So when you're planning agendas for forthcoming meetings, always remember to check your parking lot.

7. Time to say goodbye

hourglass timers

Be punctual: arrive on time, start on time and finish on time too. You can keep your meetings short, sweet and relevant by setting a timer: when the timer rings, the meeting should end - immediately. Setting time limits can actually help with focus and creativity - in fact, many artists and writers use self-imposed psychological constraints like this to push themselves to generate ideas and creations, so a timer's countdown might just do the same for you and your meeting. [4] And if it turns out you really do need more time, simply schedule in a further meeting.

[1] Marcus Austin, 'Wasted Time in Meetings Costs Businesses £26 billion', Techradar (21 May 2012). Available at: http://www.techradar.com/news/world-of-tech/roundup/wasted-time-in-meetings-costs-businesses-26-billion-1081238 (accessed 09 February 2015).

[2] Andrew P Knight and Markus Baer, 'Get Up, Stand Up: The Effects of a Non-Sedentary Workspace on Information Elaboration and Group Performance', Social Psychological and Personality Science (12 June 2014). Available at:http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/06/12/1948550614538463.abstracthttp://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/06/12/1948550614538463.abstract(accessed 10 February 2015).

[3] Alexander Kjerulf is the founder of and Chief Happiness Officer of Woohoo.inc. Find out more about Alexander at http://positivesharing.com/about-me/ (accessed 11 February 2015).

[4] Belle Beth Cooper, ‘The Psychology of Limitations: How and Why Constraints Can Make You More Creative’, BufferSocial (26 February 2014). Available at: https://blog.bufferapp.com/7-examples-of-how-creative-constraints-can-lead-to-amazing-work (accessed 10 February 2015).