Contributing effectively to meetings matters because it is a key tool to get work done. Yet, badly run meetings are common. One workplace humour website, Meeting Boy, regularly points all the ways meetings go wrong. Rather than shout at the darkness of bad meetings, let’s find ways to make them better.
Note: Step “0” for contributing to meetings is understanding when they are truly needed. If a decision or action is better suited to an email or phone call, then use that approach instead.
1. Facilitator: Encouraging Effective Discussion
Over the past year, I have seen some outstanding meeting facilitators in action. They play a great role in bringing everyone into the discussion and guiding a discussion. If the meeting`s agenda includes defining a problem, developing possible solutions or other creative approaches, then a facilitator adds value. High stress or crisis situations sometimes also call for a facilitator to manage the discussion.
Resource: There are two facilitator training programs (Facilitation Certification from APMG International and Certified Master Facilitator Certification) available for those who wish to take their skills to the next level.
2. The Technical/Subject Matter Expert: Deliver Insights
Experts play an important role in meetings by offering their insights. The key challenge for experts is to share their knowledge at the right level of detail for the meeting. As a rule of thumb, start contributions at a high level of detail or in brief. If additional details or data are called for, then offer it.
Tip: If detailed information is critical to the meeting’s success, share a memo or other document in advance so everyone can review it. Including a simple diagram is often an effective way to explain a new process.
3. The Volunteer: Moving Us Forward
If you are seeking to get ahead at work, pay attention to meetings. Stay tuned for references to upcoming work assignments, projects and other activities where you can volunteer. The volunteer role also covers smaller tasks that make a difference (e.g. cleaning up old records for the department or building management items). Stepping up to do more than your “official” job description also marks you as having a positive attitude.
4. The Referee: Keeping Order
Rules help us to function effectively and that principle certainly applies to meetings. The meeting referee is sometimes called the meeting organizer or chairperson. This person encourages everyone to focus on the agenda and table off topic discussions for a different time. It requires tact and a diplomatic approach to serve in this role effectively.
Resource: The “Chairing a meeting” document created the UK’s Resource Centre has additional tips on how to serve in this role.
5. The Scribe: Why Rely On Memory When We Have Writing?
Taking notes effectively in a meeting is fundamental. Earlier in life, I attempted to operate like Hansard – a verbatim record. That approach is usually overkill in meetings. Instead, focus on taking note of tasks to be completed, deadlines and similar information. In most cases, it makes sense to summarize these notes and share them in a meeting summary email after the meeting.
Resource: The article How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes gives further guidance on this topic.
6. The Pre-Wire Contributor: Avoid Surprises
Laying the ground work prior to an important meeting is important. Briefing people about a meeting’s content and agenda prior to the meeting is the essence of a “pre-wire.” This activity is especially important if the meeting seeks support for a project, spending or other major action. If the meeting involves bad news (e.g. pointing out delays caused on a project by another department), sharing that news in advance helps.
Once again, the ability to communicate clearly and diplomatically is important. This function is often played by the person who called the meeting. Yet, individuals can also play this role if they see an important relationship at stake. An added benefit to this pre-meeting work is helping you to refine your approach in the meeting. That’s a great way to improve your performance.
7. The Agenda Creator: Defining The Focus
In some companies, you are encouraged to reject meeting requests where there is no written agenda. That’s a powerful signal about the importance of planning the session in advance. A well crafted agenda that is shared in advance prevents many of the problems that typically hit meetings. For most meetings, a one page or shorter document serves as an effective agenda.
Tip: Plan the most important agenda items early in the meeting so that these topics have the needed time and attention.
Resource: Read How to Design an Agenda for an Effective Meeting from Harvard Business Review .
8 The Follow Up Manager: Realizing Meeting Value
Consistent follow up on meetings is important in order to realize the meeting’s true value. Taking note of your own action items, completing the items and informing the rest of the meeting attendees adds energy to the effort. Project coordinators and business analysts often take on the role of the follow up manager to ensure that tasks are completed.
Tip: Asking clarifying questions on due dates is a key step to enable successful follow up. Asking about other’s tasks and deadlines also matters because those timelines impact your work.
Further Meeting Resources
There are a wealth of resources, articles, books and courses on meetings for two good reasons. First, meetings remain an important professional skill. Second, there are many types of meetings which require different skills. For example, a two person meeting often requires less planning than a twenty person meeting. Explore the following resources to continue your development in this area.
Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli. This short book by an Ernst & Young alumnus offers tips to make meetings better and rethink our approach to meetings culture. The book was published as part of Seth Godin’s The Domino Project.
Manager Tools’s Podcast. Once again, the outstanding people at Manager Tools have been an inspiration. Here are a few of the podcasts they have produced on meetings over the years: Effective Meetings, The Project Management Drumbeat Meeting, and Facilitating Ground Rules to Start a Meeting.
Meeting Templates. There’s no reason to start from scratch in the world of meetings – the Internet has a number of great resources. Explore the following: How to Write an Agenda for a Meeting, Classic Meeting Agenda (from Microsoft), and 10 Tips for Good Meeting Agendas.