When was the last time you heard the words “great meeting”? If you’re like most business professionals, most of the meetings you attend are frustrating, lack focus, start late and run long.

But meetings don’t have to be painful. Here are three surefire ways to distinguish the meetings you run:

  1. Identify and communicate your desired outcomes and agenda for the meeting
  2. Break through meeting clutter with active facilitation.
  3. Prepare in advance and follow through on commitments made during the meeting

Helpful desired outcomes are specific. For example, “three options for solving a major problem” or “ an action plan including next steps, areas of responsibility and a timeline to move forward on a plan.”

Often meeting leaders have an agenda (great!) and they’ve outlined 16 items they want to discuss (not so great!). Meeting leaders and participants can’t get their heads around a super-sized, laundry-list agenda, and they know from years of experience that the meeting will wrap up long before it’s covered everything on the agenda.

The human brain remembers things in threes, so outline just three items for discussion. For example, if a team is meeting about an upcoming product launch, the three-part agenda might look like this: milestone dates in our launch plan; short-term deadlines; and team member roles and responsibilities.

Really smart meeting facilitators distribute the agenda and desired outcomes in advance of the meeting and jumpstart the meeting by restating what everyone’s there to accomplish.

For more on meeting success, see:

Advisor success: How to master a 30-minute sales meeting

5 questions for easy recruiting meetings

Are you making the most of face time?

Beryl Loeb is founder of the Loeb Group, which works with business executives, professional service firms, PR, advertising and digital web marketing agencies to help transform their business through targeted skill-building. For more information, go to http://www.theloebgroup.com.