Make Meetings Work for You

February 11, 2015


If you were to ask new professionals what activities consume their time and keep them from focusing on projects, studies indicate you would receive two answers: email is generally cited as the biggest time waster and meetings come in at a close second.

This is not to say that meetings don’t serve valuable purposes in the work world. In fact, they can be absolutely indispensible to becoming a successful new professional. A well-run meeting enables a group of people to acquire important information, focus on a particular issue, make decisions, and gain commitment.

For you to get the most out of every meeting, commit to the following best practices:


Review the meeting agenda and prepare

Once you’ve been invited to a meeting, confirm that your participation is required, and then prepare to participate.

Request a meeting agenda. The agenda should tell you everything you need to know about the meeting, from start and end times to specific issues you may be asked to address. Confirm that you understand the meeting’s overall objectives. Will the meeting serve as an informational exchange, or will key decisions be made?

Confirm your role. Because you are concerned about making the best use of your time, ensure that your participation contributes to the meeting’s overall objective. If you have been asked to speak about a certain topic, prepare clear and concise remarks. If you intend to use a visual presentation, confirm the availability of the appropriate technology in the meeting room. To the extent possible, be prepared to share pertinent data before the meeting so that others have the opportunity to review it.

Consider an exit strategy. Determine whether your input or even your presence will be required throughout the entirety of the meeting or only for a segment. If the latter is the case, ask the person who has convened the meeting whether you may be excused once your input is no longer required, so that you can return to work.


Be on time and be present

Arrive at meetings on time. Punctuality is one of the ways you communicate to others that you respect their time and their workloads. Tardiness conveys an impression that you view your time as having greater value than that of others.

Once you arrive at a meeting, be fully present. Turn your smartphone off or to vibrate, and give your full attention to the issues at hand.

Caveat: This is one of the areas in which it’s critical to understand the culture of your particular employer. In some organizations, it’s considered disrespectful to review and respond to email and text messages during the course of a meeting. In other organizations, junior employees are expected to be connected 24/7, wherever they are. Adhere to your employer’s culture. If you don’t know what those norms are, ask your supervisor.

Always carry a notepad or an electronic device on which you can record data and action items.


Listen carefully

Every meeting participant, including those who have speaking roles, should be prepared to listen. Focus on key concepts discussed and avoid getting caught up in specific words—we all have “hot button” words that can emotionally distract us—unless, of course, specific language is central to the meeting. The latter may well be the case when putting together a deal or discussing an important legal issue. Avoid interrupting others when they speak.

Genuine active listening will require sustained effort on your part. The average person speaks at a rate of approximately 125 words per minute. Yet the average brain is able to process about 400 words per minute. That means only one-quarter of your mental capacity will be fully engaged when listening. Combine this factor with other research indicating that the human attention span is limited to about 10 minutes, and it’s little wonder that so many meeting participants find it difficult to stay on point.

While listening to key messages, pay attention to nonverbal cues, especially those that convey unexpressed, strong emotions. In the long run, these may be more important than specific words used throughout the course of a meeting.


Offer input

In most cases, meeting participants are expected to contribute to the achievement of the meeting’s goals. Join discussions when you have something to say that will advance the purpose of the meeting. When speaking, stay concise and on point. Know when an issue should be debated and when to move on.

Always be aware that within every organization hierarchies exist. In most meetings, a supervisor’s statements will be given greater weight than those of a junior employee. Consider discussing your ideas with your supervisor before a meeting to ensure that he or she is never surprised. Then prepare carefully for the meeting so that you articulate your thoughts in a clear, logical manner.

Throughout a meeting, please never take credit for an idea that is not your own. And do not criticize other people’s ideas. Even when you disagree with another meeting participant, present a positive alternative rather than a negative critique.


What You Need To Know

Students, interns and new professionals must be aware that attending meetings can consume huge amounts of time. To ensure that time is used wisely, before attending a meeting review the agenda and understand your role. Then listen carefully and offer input that contributes to the meeting’s goals.



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