Excerpt: Participating in Meetings

Below is another excerpt from my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week — this time on how to efficiently participate in a meeting.

This is from the Wednesday chapter, “Communication Processes” section:

“You might not realize it, but meeting attendees have some control over how quickly a meeting runs and they certainly impact the quality of the discussion.

  • Be prepared. Read the agenda at least a day in advance of the meeting. Come to the meeting with relevant materials. Have a pen and pad of paper with you. Turn your BlackBerry to vibrate. Know who else will be at the meeting. Know the goal of the meeting, its location, and its start time. Arrive at the meeting on time.
  • Respect others. How many times have you been in a meeting where a presenter has had to repeat information because Gary and Stephanie were focusing on their laptops instead of paying attention the first time something was said? Not only does this type of distraction waste Gary’s and Stephanie’s time, but it also wastes the time of everyone attending the meeting. Focus your attention on who is speaking. Make eye contact. Show that you’re listening. Avoid making snide comments to your neighbor. If you’re having trouble concentrating, write down in excruciating detail everything the speaker is saying. It will give you something to do, and you can review your detailed notes later if you spaced out on what was being said.
  • Think before you speak. Before you contribute to a conversation in a meeting, ask yourself: 1) Is this comment helpful and relevant to the topic being discussed right now? (If it’s not, save it for after the meeting.) 2) Will this comment be helpful to everyone in the room or just one individual? (If the comment is only helpful to one person, save everyone else’s time and talk to that specific person after the meeting.) 3) Can I craft my comment so that it takes less than thirty seconds to express? (If you can’t, keep crafting. If you’re not presenting, your comments should be brief.)”

What do you do during meetings to help speed them along? Add your ideas to the comments.

19 Comments for “Excerpt: Participating in Meetings”

  1. posted by Sarah on

    I can’t tell you how many government meetings I’ve attended that dragged on for an extra hour because elected officials didn’t pay attention the first three times questions were answered. Very frustrating.

  2. posted by Twomims on

    If everyone could remember these simple steps:

    1.) Is this comment relevant?
    2.) Will it be helpful?
    3.) Can it take less than 30 seconds?

    We would all have a lot less time spent in meetings that drag on and on when actual work could be getting done. Thanks for the post!

  3. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    RE: Point #3 Think before speaking

    Perhaps everybody should write their comments in a “tweet”. If it is too long to tweet (> 140 chars) then it is too long to say.

    It would certainly keep meetings short!

  4. posted by Jonathan Frei on

    4. Don’t go: unless you have to.

    More than likely the meeting will be a waste of time

  5. posted by Allison on

    My division has bi-weekly update meetings. I try to focus my update on the most important issues with which I am working and issues that have an impact on other division members. I so wish others could do the same. There are people who use the meetings as an opportunity to list every single thing that has happened over the past two weeks. I cannot figure out if these people are trying to impress our boss or just like hearing themselves talk, but it is so annoying and a waste of time. Luckily, I usually participate by phone as I’m in a different city so I can multi-task while others drone on and on and on…

  6. posted by Elisa Hebert on

    Yes, think before you speak, but not so much thinking that you stop listening.

    Too often, people repeat what others have said or speak about a passed topic because they’ve stopped listening in favor of crafting their response.

  7. posted by Rachel on

    Wow, people make agendas for meetings? Someone needs to tell my company!

    I agree that it’s important to only bring up things that will affect the whole room, or at least most of it. Lately my own department meetings have included a lot of whinging about what-is-to-become-of-us-now-that-we’ve-reorganized, and especially for those of us on the phone, it’s just so tiresome. Is there a polite way to tell people to be grateful that they didn’t get laid off like 350 other people did just 3 months ago?

  8. posted by Sue on

    I’ve learned to go to meetings with a pad of paper & to take copious notes for myself. This keeps me concentrated & focused on what is being said & the topic of the meeting.

    But, to make sure that my notes are not used as an official record of the meeting, I also write personal work notes, such as “don’t forget to call Mr Jones about the thingamajig” or “check & confirm appt on Friday with Chris”. This way, my notes don’t become something someone says “Hey!! Just photocopy Sue’s notes so everyone knows what is going on!!” or if they say that I should email everyone my notes on the meeting, I let them know that I won’t be able to do it for… two weeks or some other time period. I’m gentle but firm that the notes are my notes.

    I also use a form of alpha-stenography, coding words or phrases. Most of it is readable only to me, not to others.

    I truly love paper planners to keep notes & keep focused on what is important… even if it isn’t necessarily that meeting.

  9. posted by Michele on

    1. LOL, my best strategy is to run the meeting myself. :)

    2. I hate attending a meeting that takes more than half an hour, so when I run a meeting I write an agenda that will take no more than 30 minutes to get through. Then I write the agenda items on the board (or whatever display we’re using) and check them off or strike through them as we complete them.

    3. The last agenda item is to set the date and time for the next meeting. I don’t know why, but this seems to help people get through the meeting efficiently. Maybe they feel that if something can’t be resolved, there’s a definite time and place to resolve it next time, so we don’t have to spin our wheels and waste time on it today.

    4. Have the group meet as infrequently as possible. When I ran a legal policy club at law school, I scheduled meetings for once per month. We would meet informally for sack lunches and other social events more often, but we would have business meetings only every 4 to 6 weeks.

    5. Adopt some rules of order and use them every time, all the time. Whether Roberts Rules of Order or On Conflict and Consensus or something in between, the leader/facilitator must know the rules like the back of their hand, and the rest of the group must know and be willing to follow them (including enforcing them on individuals who aren’t following them).

  10. posted by Deborah on

    I hated meetings so much that I would purposely “forget” to go, ha ha ha ha! Finally quit the corporate life altogether to run my own small biz and I NEVER have meetings!!! They are a waste of time. Always.

  11. posted by Mletta on

    It’s possible to have a well-run, focused meeting. As noted, it does take prep. And therein is the problem. A lot of people simply do not prepare or do it adequately.
    And a lot more people have a secondary agenda rather than the alleged shared one.

    I spent what seemed like a lifetime in the corporate world and the creative world in meetings. Ironically, the most focused meetings were in the “creative” world because the moderators really knew how to run meetings for a set purpose. (And yes, I ran a lot of them where my line in creative meetings would be, after we finished brainstorming: Great ideas. Now, here’s the budget and the timeline. Let’s make it work –long before Tim Gunn!)

    A meeting is not simply a bunch of bodies showing up in a room with questions or problems. Nor is it a constant (the worst meetings are the “regularly” scheduled/held types. )

    In addition to a realistic agenda, clear rules (you’d be surprised how many people today simply don’t have common courtesy)and a real reason to even meet (a lot of meetings are set for lots of other reasons than getting stuff done), you need someone who can really facilitate the meeting. Often that person is NOT the one who called the meeting.

    Having a set start and end time helps tremendously–but it has to be adhered to.

    Once people realize that they need to “follow the rules” if they want to be heard, they generally will.

    A meeting is only as good as the leader and/or facilitator and the audience. Some people should never be included and some people have to be taken aside afterwards and reminded what the agenda is.

    As for them being a waste of time? Yes, they can be. But I resist the notion that all are.

    As for twittering a question? Not an option. sorry, but 140 characters won’t do it. I’ve been in meetings about products where the 140 characters would not even include the product’s name…let alone a question.

    People need good examples to learn how to behave and conduct productive meetings. Find them and use them.

    Today, the skills needed to be taken online since many meetings are now single platform web meetings or multi-platform (on site, phone and web cam) meetings.

    That’s really challenging when you’re trying to manage people over different formats.

  12. posted by Red Coyote Hunter on

    Rule 1. The presenter should always start promptly at the appointed hour. Lock, the doors, and refuse to allow stragglers to join late. This brings sharp focus and attention to the task at hand.

    Rule 2. The agenda must be written in “concrete.” No variance allowed by presenter or attendees.

    Rule 3. Wrap it up in fifteen minutes.

    Rule 4. Never go to a meeting unless you know what will happen. Do your homework ahead of time.

  13. posted by Cathy Reisenwitz on

    If you keep getting invited to meetings that drag on and waste people’s time, suggest all meetings be held chairlessly. It’s extreme, but effective.

  14. posted by Another Deb on

    I appreciate all of the suggestions for meetings since this year I am in charge of facilitating a team on my faculty. In past years my frustrations were about ineffective meetings so this year I took on the job to try and make it better.

    I always have a report format for students we have concerns about. It includes a column to record what the concern in, what has been tried, what is the next step and who will be responsible for that. It helps to have a plan, not just a vent session.

  15. posted by Ellen Skagerberg on

    The facilitator is key. If you have an intractable or incompetent meeting facilitator, see if gentle “confused” questions help. “I’m lost; what are we deciding on here?”

    That said, it’s important for introverts to SPEAK UP occasionally, and for extraverts to SHUT UP quite often.

  16. posted by Lizard on

    I also take notes in meetings, but contrary to Sue, I intentionally email them to all invited attendees as soon after the meeting as possible. I share them, because this makes the *next* meeting more valuable because we cover new content instead of rehashing last week’s debates. Also, because when I miss a meeting, I wish someone would send me notes. I share them ASAP so people know these are just my raw notes, not a formal record of the meeting. (Sometimes I just take notes in my email client, and click send before closing my laptop to leave the meeting. )

  17. posted by J on

    I’m an executive assistant at my company and due to cutbacks, I, along with the other assistants, have had to take on an additional role as receptionist.

    The desk is located right outside of the boardroom and every morning after the execs meeting has adjourned, they sit in there talking about nothing in particular for about 20-30 minutes. It’s a complete waste of time.

  18. posted by Enrique S @ The Corporate Barbarian on

    We have a weekly staff meeting that sometimes gets out of hand with sidebar discussions and interruptions. To help speed things along, I don’t blurt out questions when someone else has the floor. I’ll jot them down, and ask them when it’s my turn to speak.

  19. posted by Kasey on

    Luckily, I work with people that like each other and so meetings can get pretty chatty. Having a time keeper has kept our meetings more focused and rewarding. We give ourselves 5 minutes to catch up with personal comings and goings, but after that, it’s straight to business. If we all have an extra 10 minutes, we’ll extend the call, but that’s it. It’s not a good feeling when you finish a meeting wondering, “Now . . .what was the ultimate point of that?”
    Works for us!

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