This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
Meetings are work. They don’t always feel that way, as you emerge from another wasted hour, and, if they habitually do achieve nothing, then they are displacing real work and you need to do something about it: speak to the chair of the meeting and suggest your time would be better spent working on something else, but ask courteously for a copy of minutes, so you can stay in touch. In extremis, maybe even suggest that the meeting no longer serves a valuable purpose and that it is time for a re-think.
But most meetings do serve a purpose and you are there for a reason. So let’s examine how to get the most from your meetings.
Exercise 1: Preparation
There are two things you will need to do when you are at your meeting: Get what you need from the time you spend, and contribute effectively, getting your point of view across. These are why you should prepare: so you know what you want to get from the meeting and so that you are ready to make your point effectively.
My meeting preparation kit consists of:
- A multipart folder so I can organise and quickly find the papers for each section of the meeting.
- A highlighter pen, so I can highlight the key passages I will want to refer to. A top tip: don’t just read through other people’s papers; read your own contributions as well, highlighting the points you want to make when you are asked to speak.
- A pack of sticky notes, to attach comments or create bookmarks.
Exercise 2: Being Present
Let me pass on the best piece of advice I ever got about meetings:
Be in the room, when you are in the room
That is to say, don’t let your mind wander, don’t get distracted by side conversations, and avoid looking at your phone, or writing your shopping list. Be wholly present. Practise good quality attentive listening and take notes that will help you to lock important points into your memory, record essential facts, and create your follow-up action list.
Exercise 3: Speaking up
When it is your turn to speak – whether because you are questioned, or you are called upon – structure what you say to make maximum impact. This means taking a pause before speaking, while you organise your thoughts. Savour its dramatic effect, then speak with assurance and precision. When you have spoken, create a clean break and await responses.
Exercise 4: Being Influential
There are three things that will boost your levels of influence in any meeting.
- Focus on principles
Principles and patterns carry far more power than details, so confine your contributions to what matters most and let others contribute the secondary ideas.
- Focus on process
When the meeting gets stuck or hits confusion or conflict, you will be at your most influential when you contribute a simple process to move things on. Don’t get involved in the confusions and stay above the conflict: just offer a constructive way forward.
It is almost impossible to overstate the power of silence. Silence in pauses; before, during and after you speak, silence when listening, silence when nobody knows what to say. Command the silences and you control the meeting.
Exercise 5: Follow-up
When you schedule your meeting in your diary, schedule 15 minutes after the meeting to do your follow-up, to reflect on what you have learned, or to chat with another participant. Rushing from one meeting to your next engagement risks losing the impact of that meeting and leaves you with a load of follow-up at the end of the day. Worse still, you don’t follow-up… and then, what was the point?