There's no getting around it: meetings, outside of email, are where most communication happens inside of the workplace. While a lot of information gets conveyed via emails, text messages, and phone calls, a lot is lost in terms of communication, and meetings give us that physical space to share with each other while zinging information back and forth. There are those people who are annoyed by ineffective meetings, those that sometimes discount what they could be doing to make them better: they could just come prepared for those meetings.
What are the best ways to prepare for an effective meeting? Well, let's get into that, shall we?
Read the Agenda...Even If There Isn't One
If you're lucky, every meeting that happens in your organization comes with an agenda. It might be a sparsely populated Excel sheet, or a three-page packet with footnotes and a short bio of every meeting attendee (might be exaggerating just a bit), but let's get one thing straight: agendas are important, and it's your job to take them in. Every meeting has a purpose, even though sometimes that purpose might be nebulous, and an agenda might help you make some sense of that meeting.
Knowing what a meeting is about will allow you to have better input to give to that meeting. It's as simple as that. If there's a meeting that you've been circled in on, but it's all Marketing folks and you're in Sales, you might not necessarily need to be there...but if you read the agenda, you might find out the Marketing crew is looking to get your input about what kind of content they're putting out on the website.
If there isn't a meeting agenda, ask for one. A hastily-written, ten-line email agenda is better than no agenda at all. It's possible that you'll find your reason for going within that agenda, but if you don't, don't be afraid to ask why you're needed.
Recognize Your Role in the Meeting
Lately, we've all been passing a few books around the office, and perhaps one of the best breakdowns of meeting structure we've been reading has been Let's Stop Meeting Like This by Dick and Emily Axelrod. In the introduction, the authors make the case that everyone at a meeting falls into one of three categories: a Leader, a Contributor, or a Facilitator.
The Leader of a meeting is the one with the formal authority to make the meeting happen, or at the very least, the person who calls the meeting in the first place. If you're the meeting Leader, it's your job to find a purpose from the very inception of the idea to have a meeting in the first place, and you can do this by asking what decision will occur as a result of this meeting? This is, by far, the most important decision you'll make regarding the meeting, and will serve to guide the proceedings and give them purpose. Once you've ascertained what decision the meeting will revolve around, you'll be able to invite the right people and keep the meeting on track, preventing it from being a Festivus-style "airing of grievances" (save that for the actual Festivus) or a discussion of unrelated topics.
The Contributors of a meeting could also be called "attendees", but attending a meeting shouldn't be just about being there, it should be about working toward the decision point your Leader has put forward. Anyone at a meeting should have the ability to discuss salient points regarding the topic...after all, the Leader made sure to invite the right people, right? As a Contributor, you should be prepared to offer ideas and participate in the discussion. If you don't have anything to say, you should know before the meeting ever happens (we'll get to that next). A Contributor should also bring needed information to the meeting, if necessary. If you're discussing the sales numbers in Q4, bring your personal sales reports and notes from Q4. If you're discussing what color to paint the bathroom, bring color swatches you like.
The Facilitator of a meeting is there to assist the group in achieving its purpose. They're similar to a Contributor, but they're not always providing direct input...they might have a secondary management role within the meeting, keeping time or sitting in the driver's seat for presenters. Sometimes, a Facilitator might give input purely by making sure everyone who raises their hand has a chance to speak, or by correcting the course when the meeting begins to swerve off-track.
Write Yourself Some Speaking Points
No head of state goes in front of the press without a list of speaking points, so why should you be any different? Sure, you're not discussing an ongoing war, or talking about options to combat a failing economy, but shouldn't you still show up prepared to talk about the reason you're there?
And you don't have to have pages and pages of notes, either. A simple index card with a few lines jotted on it will do wonders for keeping you on track. You're here to tell your side of the story, after all, and to give input on whatever decision is being made, so shouldn't you come prepared to do so? Since you know, by this point, both why you're being asked to attend the meeting, and what your role within it is, so knowing what to bring to the table should be a no-brainer.
That said, don't forget to bring any relevant contributions to the meeting. Remember those Q4 sales reports we talked about? Did you remember to carry them to the conference room, or are you going to be spending tomorrow mornings meeting digging around in your desk? Go over your speaking points...do you need any evidence to back up the things you're saying?
What advice do you have for those who are preparing for meetings? Follow us on Twitter or leave a post for us on Facebook, and let's talk about your strategies for walking into meetings prepared.