Much is made about shorter meetings, having no formal meetings at all, making everyone stand so they stay focused in shorter daily or weekly meetings, and myriad other ways to make people more effective via quirky or gimmicky techniques. Several articles have appeared here on Lifehack recently about improving meeting productivity overall, and Chris Brogan’s Nail Meetings Down Tight and Take Your Laundry Off The Line are two great ones. Mike Vardy’s post on using MeetingBurner to support great virtual meetings is also a great resource.
Right now, though, I’m going to give you six ways to make any meeting more effective for you beginning right now. These techniques will work for you even if you have no control over the meeting content, length, or style.
Read the pre-briefs.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? It is obvious, but it often doesn’t get done. If you knew how many leaders – from junior to very senior – of major and not-so-major public and private organizations I’ve seen walk into meetings with absolutely no foreknowledge of the meeting’s content, except maybe the topic, you would be appalled. And it would instantly become obvious why progress moves with glacial slowness. Read the pre-briefs. Have some idea of what you’re likely to hear. Then, you’ll have an idea of where to look for problems and opportunities.
If the pre-briefs are terrible, privately tell the person who prepared them. They should appreciate it; no one wants to look like an idiot in public. If you don’t have the horsepower to approach them, use your network.
Don’t use the time to prepare for your next meeting. Don’t have impromptu meetings with your neighbor. If the meeting isn’t worth your attention, it isn’t worth attending. Focus your attention on what is being said and presented. Are they congruent? Is the speaker presenting information you know to be inaccurate, or overly optimistic or pessimistic? Are all stakeholders present, or is something being discussed someone else really needs to know about or contribute to? Engage your mind on the meeting, even if you don’t find the meeting engaging.
Yes, I could have put this under “Pay Attention,” but enough people violate this that it deserves a separate mention.
If you are reading email or texts, or writing new ones, you cannot be fully engaging your attention on the person speaking or on their presentation. And I often find the real information is hiding on a slide and never mentioned aloud, while the conversation goes on around it. And, messaging during a meetng is just bad manners.
Take notes on printed presentations (as well as notepaper).
I have a system of flagging and coding critical information I need to remember, and to visually cue my eyes to follow a certain path through the notes. I also have a special coding system to flag actions for me and others, and to indicate at a glance whether I initiated the action or it came from someone else.
Use an assistant.
Even if it’s a peer. A good executive assistant’s worth is immeasurable, especially one with the ability to learn what you need to know, and when you need it. If you’re fortunate enough to have one, let them tell you what he or she believes is important for you from the meeting. Integrate the insight into your own notes. If you don’t have an assistant, try reaching an agreement with a peer to provide this support for each other. You’ll both gain greater benefit from the meetings you attend, and you’ll have a greater incentive to pay attention for the entire thing.
Taking notes on the presentations themselves allows you to jot questions, concerns, or follow-up actions next to the material, automatically creating a connection and preventing you from having to write as much. A paper-saving alternative is to write a memory-jogging note first on your notepad, and then jot the slide number or subject so you can refer back to it. I also typically write the name of a presenter and their main subject at the section of my notes where they begin speaking. If I end up with no notes for them, then it’s only cost me a single line on the note page and I can go back and see who spoke on a given topic if I have a question later.
Really. Get up and walk out. Is it rude? That depends on how you handle it.
Make it clear you have limited time when you accept the invitation. Show up for as long as it takes to glean what you need, and then quietly leave. If you’re one of several attendees, it should be clear you have other commitments. If the meeting is for you, then you just made it clear your time was being misused.
Take care, and have productive meetings,
(Photo credit: Bored in a Meeting via Shutterstock)
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