Let’s face it, as much as we may hate them, meetings are a necessary evil, and an essential component of office work required to get things done. But if you, and the other meeting participants aren’t prepared, the meeting will not be effective, be a huge time waster for everyone, and effort going down the drain. Here are some useful tips to help you get the most out of your meetings, and ensure you do in fact, get things done.
Tip 1 – The meeting request: To meet or not to meet
The key to meeting productivity starts way before the meeting, with the meeting request. Some people wrongly believe they have the right to walk up to your office and drag you into a meeting. I would strongly suggest politely declining and insisting on a meeting request. A meeting request should typically contain three essential components:
- Meeting subject
Meeting subject should clearly answer the question: why are we meeting? There really shouldn’t be any guesswork involved, plain and simple, why should I stop working and spend an hour of my time sitting in a room with you? Is it something we can cover over the phone? Or perhaps over Skype? How about email? The simple answer is this: If this topic requires a discussion and/or exchange of ideas, opinions, and thoughts, then by all means, let’s definitely meet! If it doesn’t, then thanks but no thanks.
Bonus tip #1
A meeting request is by definition, a request, it’s not a meeting order or a meeting directive (unless it’s from your manager). More often than not, you are free to reject the meeting request if the timing doesn’t suit your schedule, if you don’t think a meeting is warranted, or if the meeting subject is simply not a priority to you.
A meeting agenda, albeit optional and frequently ignored, is very important, because it helps steer the meeting in the direction in which it was scheduled, and helps all parties stay focused and on track. An agenda should answer the question: When we do meet, how are we going to cover the subject of the meeting? It usually is the meeting subject expanded into bullet points. The agenda is a great way to tell everyone involve what exactly is expected from them in the meeting.
Finally, participants are people other than you and the meeting organizer who are invited to the meeting. The combination of the meeting subject and agenda would typically explain why four other people are involved.
By now you should have all the information you need to make a well informed decision regarding the meeting: to meet or not to meet. Regardless of your decision, it is good office etiquette to respond to the meeting request, whether by accepting, declining, or proposing a new time for the meeting. If you decide to decline, you should state a clear reason why you are declining the meeting.
Tip 2 – Way before the meeting
Think of the meeting like a test, if you don’t study, you will most likely flunk the test. You need to be prepared. Go over the meeting agenda and do the prep work you need to do to fulfill your purpose in the meeting. Be it research, preparing a report, or a presentation, whatever it is – be prepared. If your meeting is scheduled way ahead of time, and you decide to start preparing for it in advance, make sure you gather all your notes in one place, one Word document or one folder. I sometimes make the mistake of preparing some notes on a single piece of paper, that I end up losing on the day of my meeting. I strongly recommend you switch over to digital note taking and use something like OneNote.
While doing your pre-meeting prep work, you may realize that you need input from one of the meeting participants, be sure to let them and the meeting organizer know about it, by replying to the meeting request.
Bonus tip #2
Microsoft Outlook by default deletes a meeting request that you respond to, whether by accepting or declining, so when you want to reply to a meeting request, you won’t find it in your inbox. To reply to a meeting request that you responded to, simply go to your calendar, navigate to the day of the meeting, double click on the meeting on your calendar and choose Reply or Reply All from the Respond menu, under the Respond tab on your Outlook ribbon OR navigate to your Deleted Items folder, find the meeting request there, and reply to it.
Bonus tip #3
If you are invited to a meeting at a client’s office for example, be sure to ask ahead of time about the meeting room equipment and facilities, ask questions like: would I be able to connect my laptop to present off it? Is there internet access that I can use?
Bonus tip #4
If your meeting is not in the office, familiarize yourself with the area and neighborhood, get information on traffic conditions, and nearby parking.
Tip 3 – A little before the meeting
I like to gather my (digital) notes a little before the meeting, refamiliarize myself with the meeting topic and agenda, and prepare my chain of thought. If there’s homework on my part (that I already did), I would copy my files and reports to a USB storage device, bring my laptop to share my screen in the meeting if needed, or to present off it.
Bonus tip #5
If you’re new to the company or if your company has a billion meeting rooms across a million floors, it may be a good idea to know exactly where the meeting room is.
Bonus tip #6
If you have video conferencing meeting room systems in your company, this article has some useful information on content sharing and collaboration.
Tip 4 – Right before the meeting
Goes without saying, please show up on time for your meeting and be sure to put your mobile phone on silent. There’s nothing more distracting than a loud ring tone during a meeting.
Bonus tip #7
Take your “bio” breaks right before your meeting!
Tip 5 – During the meeting
Ask who will be taking notes and responsible for meeting minutes, if nobody volunteers, best do it yourself to ensure meeting productivity. It may be a good idea to take notes on OneNote.
Tip 6 – After the meeting
If you were the designated meeting minute taker, clean up your notes immediately after the meeting, and send the meeting minutes to all meeting participants by email, along with the agreed action items.
Written By Sherif Hussein