Online, in-person, whatever—the keys for “showing up” at your next meeting are the same either way. Here’s a checklist of things to make sure you’re doing, whether you’re running the meeting or simply attending.
Meeting organizers should always define the outcomes they expect from a given meeting. That might not be much: “We hope to understand who the potential stakeholders are in the ultimate decision.” If you’re not the meeting owner, and they haven’t provided that information, ask at the outset of the meeting if they can share what they’re hoping to achieve. For standing meetings, an agenda should be a must-have: I require meeting items to be added to a shared agenda doc at least 24h out, and I don’t allow more than 5 items per half-hour of meeting time. I ask that as much background context as possible be added to the doc as well—we shouldn’t come to a meeting to hear an explanation that could have been provided in advance, we should come to the meeting to share perspectives.
If someone isn’t doing this, consider coaching them privately afterwards. “Hey, great meeting—can I suggest that, in the future, we get the desired outcomes or an agenda defined by the day before? It really helps everyone show up focused and ready to help you get what you need.”
Get to the point. Get there fast, and if you need to back up and provide context for someone, do that rather than engaging in lengthy explanations that might not be necessary. Avoid tangents.
I once sat in a meeting where two minutes were allocated for introductions, and the meeting organizer spent three minutes explaining how introductions would work. That’s a waste, and it saps everyone’s attention and energy. Whether you’re organizing a meeting or participating in someone else’s, try to keep everything you say on-point and less verbose.
If you’ve got a strong point to make, make it—but then explicitly make room for others’ perspectives. Pick someone you know might disagree with you, at least in part, and ask them to speak up after you. Make it clear that you want all points of view on the table. When that’s happening, be quiet and make it clear that you’re paying attention: focus on the speaker, use positive body language (nodding, for example, to indicate your comprehension if not agreement), and don’t feel compelled to defend your point of view while they’re speaking.
Consider dropping the corpspeak
“I wanted to raise a potential issue that some users may be having with one of our help desk support systems.”
“There’s a problem with ServiceNow.”
Here’s why soft words like “issue” started being used: nobody wants to look like a jerk. You don’t want to look like you’re accusing your coworkers of something. And so rather than using straightforward language, we couch everything in verbal bubble-wrap.
Instead, make it clear in your daily behaviors, over a long period of time, that you’re not a blame-game person. Earn people’s trust. It’ll enable you to speak to them more clearly.
“Hey, a bunch of people are having problems with ServiceNow. I know we’re low on resources—is this likely something we can look at? Is it possible people misunderstand our intention with how we’ve configured it? I actually think my team could tweak this a bit, but we don’t have access to the tweak thingy.”
You’ve presented a problem in concise, clear language—but you’ve also indicated that you’re not trying to attack. You’ve acknowledged a difficult situation, and allowed for a possibility that there’s no “fault” at all. You’ve even put a solution on the table, and indicated what help you might need to make it happen.
Listen and reflect
I once listened to a half-hour diatribe on how a certain process functioned. The person who’d asked the question then clarified: “Actually, I just wanted to know if we’d written that down anywhere customers can see.” Ugh. A one-word answer turned into a thirty-minute lecture.
So when someone asks something, re-ask it, just to make sure you got it: “So you’re asking what our process is?” “No, I know what the process is, I want to know if it’s in a brochure or something we can provide to customers.”
Help the organizer
“Hey, this is a really interesting direction, but I’m not sure it fits with Larry’s intended outcomes. Am I off-base here, or should we consider tabling that for another time?” There’s nothing wrong in politely helping an organizer bring the meeting back on-track after folks have gone off on an enthusiastic tangent. The key here is knowing why the meeting was called in the first place.
Now go meet!
I’d love to know your tips for better meeting-having! Tweet me @concentrateddon and let me know!