So I attend a lot of meetings. Sometimes they're for whatever job I have at the time, but more often than not, they're related to my volunteer passions. Sometimes they're stressful, frustrating, and feel unproductive. At other times they feel convivial, fun, productive and enjoyable. The question is always how does this dichotomy work and how can I get more of these if not daily, weekly experiences to fall into the second of these categories? Here below I will type a bit about the things that can and can't be altered with regards to meetings… maybe I'll come up with ideas to solve the eternal problem of how to make meetings better but we'll see about that.
Location: Now there are numerous things one can talk about location, for example it helps if a meeting location is easily accessible: If I have to take multiple buses and trudge through deep snow just to get to a meeting, I'm going to be a lot less happy by the time I get to said meeting. But I think that location can also really impact a meeting in that if it's well lit, quiet and comfortable, it's going to make for a much more pleasant meeting than if it's loud, too hot or cold, or poorly lit. Sure there are exceptions to these rules, but physical comfort is important!
Rules: I think this really depends on the group one is meeting with. But having commonly agreed upon rules or behaviours that are acceptable and followed really makes a meeting more effective. For some groups this means having a chair, rules of order, and whatnot but for others more casual meeting format is fine. Most important is to not have individual attendees feel like they can't participate as they're being talked over or that their points wouldn't be heard, but also not have the meeting dominated by people talking off topic (some off topicness is pretty much expected in many meeting groups, of course). I find it really off-putting if my report is interrupted or if I don't get to present something I've put a ton of effort into preparing for a meeting or event, and I imagine other people would too.
People handle conflict differently. Having expectations of how to deal with disagreements (eg. are we voting on something, or does the chair have the final say or does the person whose portfolio matches this thing have the final say or does it all come down to whomever holds the purse strings etc.) is important. Some groups seek out consensus, others avoid conflict at all costs, and others enjoy a lively debate as long as people don't become attacky or otherwise start pulling in unnecessary things.
Food? Some of the most enjoyable meetings have been over food/drinks. But this isn't always necessary: indeed shorter meetings don't need such snacks oftentimes. And alcohol is sometimes desirable but for others it just doesn't work. Figuring out what works for your group helps (especially depending on who is paying for it). It's probably best that the food not be overly messy (or have a break during the meeting for the eating portion of it).
Finally: purpose. What is the need for the meeting? What are we trying to accomplish here? Having meetings just for the sake of having meetings is less than useful (of course sometimes there are mandates to do so at a certain frequency), so figuring out how to most beneficially use one's time is important. Having an unpleasant but productive meeting is a whole lot better than having a short pleasant one that didn't get anything done if your group's objectives are to get something done. Setting priorities and knowing what NEEDS to be done and what can be postponed if the meeting starts taking too long is pretty useful.
Some of the best meetings I've attended have been productive, have involved working together successfully and have accomplished things. Some of the worst left me with incredible stress, headaches, and the lack of any motivation to do anything about the things we've discussed. Meetings can be a whole waste of time (especially when one factors in travel time if held at a place one is not normally located near) but they can also be super productive/useful. It really depends on the people, the structure, the goals, and sometimes the location.