Do's/Don'ts When Attending Meetings
Simple things I do to get maximum mileage out of every meeting I attend.
As you climb the career ladder, you find yourself attending more and more meetings every day. Some meetings are run efficiently, effectively, and are a lot of fun to attend. Whereas many aren’t.
This post is not about how to avoid the latter i.e. bad meetings. But rather about things we can do to get maximum mileage out of each meeting we attend.
Before we dive in, let me first share what I mean by the term meeting mileage. By meeting mileage, I am referring to achieving both, the primary and the secondary objectives of the meeting.
Every meeting's primary objective is to either share, discuss and/or get agreement on the topics of discussion with the invitees. However, I firmly believe that every meeting is also an opportunity to build/extend relationships with everyone in the meeting, especially the speaker. This is the secondary goal that is often overlooked and under-achieved.
In this post, I share some of my Do’s and Don’ts that I follow in every meeting. It has helped me achieve both of the aforementioned goals. I hope these lists resonate with you and you find them useful. If you have tips on increasing meeting mileage further that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments below.
So without further adieu, here it is.
Scenario: Think of a meeting that you are running or are invited too. This can be a meeting with your seniors like your manager’s staff, a peer meeting, your staff meeting, or a general meeting that you are invited to.
Goal: To achieve both primary and secondary objectives of the meeting. Primary objectives for obvious reasons and secondary for extending the mileage. In my experience, a secondary objective often leads to building better relationships with invitees, and as a side bonus makes you be perceived as a great listener.
So here are the Dos and Don'ts list:
DO’s when attending a meeting:
Face the speaker:
Why: Facing the speaker sends a signal to the speaker that we are engaged in what they are about to say. I often notice that when someone starts speaking, people don’t turn around to face them. Consider the following two examples. 1/ Imagine you are standing at the head of an oval conference room table giving a presentation and everyone is sitting facing the table and not facing you. It’s an obvious signal that they are not interested in the presentation. 2/ Think back to when you were speaking in a meeting and someone turned to you to listen. There is an instant connection there. These are micro-signals our body picks up to evaluate who is engaged in conversation and who is not.
Tip: Imagine you have a stiff neck because you slept wrong last night. You already know that the next day you are turning your whole body to talk to someone instead of just the head. Do just that. An easy way to remember is that turning shoulders towards the speaker turns the whole body. If they are sitting behind you, try turning your body so they can see you.
Make eye contact:
Why: Similar to the above point, making eye contact gives micro-signals to the speaker that you are engaged in the presentation/meeting. Don’t stare at the speaker. But make eye contact.
Smile at the speaker:
Why: Imagine the last time you were presenting something. Now, remember the person who was smiling. As a speaker, we are often nervous and constantly checking to see if the content is resonating with people. A smiling face gives that signal. Remember this is about building relationships. As a speaker, we will always remember the person who smiled. Even if you are not in a presenter style meeting, it is still very important to smile at the person who is talking. Even if they are making a point that you disagree with. You can disagree with the person and communicate it when it’s your time to speak, but you are smiling at the person. Smiling makes the speaker feel safe and reiterates that this is a safe environment to share opposing opinions.
Nod your head:
Why: Another micro-signal but this time it shows that you understand their point of view. You don’t have to agree to the point. The head nod is that you understood what they were trying to say. Nodding your head makes them feel their point is being understood or at minimum acknowledged.
Why: Note-taking serves 3 purposes. 1/ Notes will help you ask better questions as you can refer to the notes back and 2/ The speaker feels satisfied that someone thinks that what they are saying is worthwhile for them to be writing in the notes. 3/ Additionally, taking notes is the best thing you can do for referencing it later.
Tips: I usually make bullet points on things that I took away. I add + or - sign in front of them to identify if I agree or disagree. It doesn’t matter how you take notes, just take some notes.
Summarize it back:
Why: This is actually more important in 1:1 meetings versus group meetings. When you summarize it back, 1/ you get an agreement with the other person that what you heard is what they said and nothing else. This is important especially when you are having hard conversations. 2/ It gives you and them time to process what was just said. It’s usually enough time to get your thoughts together to construct your response.
Tip: When summarizing, keep it short and to the point. I often repeat my notes.
(REMOTE) Unmute the mic or turn on the video:
Why: If you are in a remote meeting and everyone is on mute or have video turned off, the speaker does not know if you are listening and even present. Turning on video and unmuting the mic are the signs that you are actively engaged in the conversation. In virtual meetings, it is extremely hard to know if you are engaged when you are not physically present in one room. Unmuting/Turning on the video is at least half-way better than nothing.
Mute all distractions:
Why: Goes without saying but you should mute all the distractions like slack, emails, silent your phones, etc. It's a sign of respect for the presenter. Moreover, it will help you to listen better.
DONT’S when attending the meeting:
Don’t listen so you can respond with a pre-meditated answer:
Why: If you are listening to respond with a pre-meditated answer, it is very likely you will start speaking before they finish. No one likes to be cut-off when speaking. If you see this as a relationship-building forum, listen attentively. Listen with level 3 listening. Listen with the intention to learn. The speaker may have a different point of view that you may have never thought about. It’s not a competition on who gets it right. The goal is to learn what the other thinks.
Don’t respond right away:
Why: Responding right away may not give you enough time to collect your thoughts. Take 2-5 seconds before responding. The pause not only gives you time to respond but also demonstrates that you were actively listening.
Don’t do chores like checking/replying to emails:
Why: Doing chores means you are not listening. If you are not listening, why even attend the meeting. No one is taking attendance and there are no brownie points for showing up. For in-person meetings, close your laptop lid or put the phone facedown. For virtual meetings, keep your hands away from the keyboard. These small actions give the signal that you are actively listening.
I hope this list will help you get maximum out of each meeting that you attend. If you have a Do’s and Don’ts about the above topic, please share that in the comments below.