I have spent probably far too much of my life in meetings. It’s very much how we live in organisations. Whether it’s a client meeting, a supplier meeting or an internal meeting (which come in many flavours: one-to-one, small groups, large groups, one hour, one day, three day conference with 300 people). We spend a lot of time doing this.
It’s essential – teams do more than individuals ever can. But the opportunities for massive time wasting, partial brain atrophy and pins and needles in the bum are legion. Plus all that bad food. Don’t these people know sausage rolls should be WARM.
So, how to make sure you always have a worthwhile meeting?
Firstly, define what it is you want to learn. Maybe it’s an update from a colleague, or a subordinate. Maybe it’s understanding a new piece of technology in your marketplace. Or how the competitors are getting on. How the boss feels about something. Or a chance to get to someone who is hard to get to.
If there is not sufficient learning to be had from the meeting that merits the time involved don’t go, or go for a portion of the meeting.
Secondly, be clear on what you will contribute. And then contribute it. At the right time. And in the right forum. A few concise, well crafted words at the right time will stand you apart from the hesitators, repeaters and deviators that come out of the woodwork for most meetings.
Again, if you cannot contribute, ask yourself if you should be going to the meeting at all.
Thirdly, if you do go to the meeting, make sure there is an output, an action plan. Learning and contributing are good, but these need to lead to action – for you and those you interact with. There needs to be a new course of action coming out of the meeting.
Consider the three elements above in the context of your agenda. That’s right – your agenda. The meeting organiser may have her own agenda, but you don’t need to play. Certainly you must not be disruptive, or try to take over, unless you are the boss and a bad one at that. More subtly, simply prosecute your own agenda quietly but with purpose. No one else need know you came to the meeting with your own list of objectives.
And the bigger and longer the meeting the better. Because the meeting is the whole event – including the breaks, lunch, maybe dinner and the bar afterwards if it’s that sort of do.
What will you learn? Maybe from a coffee break chat with a targeted individual?
What will you contribute? Your contribution doesn’t have to be in open forum in front of everyone. It could be a well honed viewpoint given to a more senior person, again, maybe at lunch. Avoid talking for talking’s sake. Choose your targets.
What actions do you want others to leave with? Pretty much depends on your contribution. Is it compelling enough to merit action? How good are your influencing skills? Are you approaching your target in the right way?
It is quite possible that 299 people out of the 300 that attend a three day conference on the blue widget market at an airport hotel in Nordwestupperholtensteinburg will leave feeling frustrated and bored.
But not you.
If you have learned what you set out to learn, contributed well and appropriately, and have a few actions in place with key people, you will probably have been the most productive person there. You will not feel frustrated and bored. You will have made progress. And the numb bum will wear off, eventually.