Following on from our piece on Running Effective Meetings, this time we look at how to be an effective meeting participant/attendee.
Over the course of multiple large transformation programmes for different clients, I have sat in and taken minutes for hundreds of senior leadership and governance meetings. As anyone else who has filled a role like this will know, this puts you in a unique position as observer and listener and you quickly pick on differing levels of attendee behaviour, participation, and interactions. On a personal growth level, I have been lucky to see some great leaders in action and study how they hold the room and make sure that people’s time is not wasted while also utilising and trusting their teams’ diverse opinions to come to cogent decisions and actions through active discussion.
I have also seen plenty of the bad habits and behaviours of attendees which can derail a discussion and lead to non-effective use of the time together. As is the fact in life, in business, time is a precious commodity.
Here are 5 points aimed to help participants of all levels get ahead in meetings, be it in person or virtually. The common theme throughout the points is personal accountability. Embracing or enhancing how you take on each could be advantageous to your development both professionally and personally.
1. Be Prepared – The 5 W’s
The adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” comes to mind; of course, it depends on the seriousness and topic of a meeting on what constitutes “failure”, but nevertheless, preparation is key. It won’t always be possible to come prepared for every meeting to the nth degree, but you should know the fundamentals i.e., Why, When, Where, Who and What.
Why – Know why the meeting is happening. This should go without saying but you’d be surprised how many people show up to things unaware of what is to be covered. If there is an agenda, familiarise yourself with this and the topics that will be covered. Know your role and why you are attending and prepare any points and materials as required.
When – Don’t. Be. Late. Know when the meeting is, and dial-in/show up on time. If you are going to be unavoidably late, let someone else know who can inform the others attending, this can help nullify any distraction your arrival will cause just by the expectation of it.
Where – Closely paired with when. If the meeting is across town, give yourself plenty of time to get there. If you don’t know the building, allow extra time for this too. If you are attending virtually, make sure you have the appropriate platform available and/or dial in details. Just because your company has standardised on platform X, does not mean your clients have.
Who – familiarise yourself with who is attending and their role in the meeting e.g. if they will lead the meeting or talk on a certain topic.
What – Finally, what. You may think automatically that this is like Why but it isn’t. You should understand what is the aim of the meeting i.e., what will make this a successful meeting/what are the desired outcomes? This can be in the context of yourself, your team, your boss or any clients who might be attending. Keep this in mind throughout the meeting.
There are software offerings that can help massively with meeting preparation, if your company uses such a platform, utilise it to your advantage.
2. Be Present.
You are not present simply by being present. Being present means listening and showing you are engaged i.e., practice active listening. If someone is giving you their time, it is respectful that you give yours back. Little things do not go unnoticed in meetings, especially by leaders who have been around the block; it is very easy to tell who is engaged or not.
Etiquette and body language play a huge role here. Put the phone away and have it on silent. If you are expecting an important call, let this be known beforehand. Once again, the expectation of distraction can help nullify distraction when it comes.
Use positive body language; sit up straight, make eye contact (if you are on camera, look down the camera, not at yourself!), nod if you agree with a point but don’t be one of those people we’ve all seen aimlessly nodding along while their mind is elsewhere.
Avoid negative body language such as slumping in your chair, folding arms, commenting to those around you or under your breath etc. This can give the impression to the speaker that you are uninterested – even if you are, it is a bad and unprofessional look that can lower the energy in the room and disengagement can be contagious. Remember that someone is giving you their time.
3. Think Before You Speak but Be Willing to Speak
One of my former bosses used to joke to me that the smartest person in any meeting is the one who hasn’t spoken yet! We’ve all probably sat through meetings were we felt this is actually the case. The problem with not speaking is that people will not know where you stand on any topic. Being willing to speak in meetings is easier for some people than for others though.
Thinking before you speak is a matter of sticking to the topic at hand and being thoughtful of time. If you think you have a point to make, know what it is and try to get it across as succinctly as possible. Some of the biggest reasons for meetings running over or decisions not being made are the people who want to dominate the conversation too much without ever getting to a valid point.
Part of this is knowing your role – if you are the expert on the topic then of course you should lead the conversation. If you are a bit more introverted and tend to sit back and just observe, be willing to share your point of view and ideas. People won’t know your viewpoint unless you tell them. It can help to jot down some points and when the opportunity allows, let them known.
If you agree with someone else’s comments, say so. This is also a good way to add any additional points you have to add on top of what they have said, “I agree with Jane, and I think this could be further enhanced with x, y, z”, for example. Giving credit to others in meetings also helps harbour a positive and inclusive environment.
4. Facilitating Others and Discussion.
The most productive meetings are when different knowledge and perspectives are represented. Some of the best leaders I have seen are skilled facilitators and consistently foster an environment of inclusivity and diversity of opinion that makes everyone feel comfortable in giving theirs. That will not always be the case and you do not need to be chairing the meeting to help other people to get their points across.
If a topic of discussion is not in your field of expertise, you can still add value by facilitating the discussion. Ask questions and remember What it is the team are trying to achieve here. If you feel someone was interrupted or is being ignored, circle back to them and ask what they want to say. Inviting fellow attendees to comment can help them to feel supported and will generate an inclusive atmosphere.
If a discussion point is veering off course and threatening the agenda timing, don’t be afraid to point this out. If you feel comfortable doing so, try summarizing the discussion and see if you can bring it to a conclusion with clear action or decision. This is useful when dealing with any conflict in a meeting also.
Of course, sometimes the best way to facilitate discussion and getting to quicker decisions can also be to stay silent. If you are attending virtually, go on mute as others are speaking; the everyday noises of your work environment may not be distracting to you with your headset, but they might be to everyone else.
5. Take Notes/Review Notes and Minutes
Taking notes during a meeting provides you with a useful record of what was discussed and if you have any actions to take away with you to fulfil. If you have taken notes, you could offer to share a summary of the meeting with other attendees and with people who were unable to attend. If the meeting had an official note/minute taker, you could offer to share your notes with this person. If you are a bit more introverted, sending your notes and any points you feel weren’t represented can be a good way to advance a topic outside of the meeting setting. If your company uses meeting minute software, add your notes or record any actions or decisions that can then be tracked. You can still add value to a meeting after the fact, even if you were not that vocal while in the actual meeting.
If minutes are shared for review after the meeting, make sure you review these and agree with the content as these will be the record used going forward of what was agreed, when it was agreed and by whom. In many ways, reading the notes/minutes is the beginning of you being prepared for the next meeting as well.
As stated at the beginning, it’s all about personal accountability and having the attitude of wanting to get the most out of any meeting for both you and your fellow attendees. There are many aspects of a meeting that you may not have control over, but you have control over your own engagement and behaviour and it’s within your gift to help the meeting and agenda run as smoothly as possible.
Remember the fundamentals and play to your strengths.
Integrated Cloud offer Meeting Manager as part of CloudCube, an enterprise management SaaS solution. We have configured Meeting Manager to successfully help users with both pre-meeting information (5 Ws) and post meeting action and decisions tracking as well as producing white labelled, formatted meeting minutes.
To find out more or to organise a demo, please Contact Us.