Sit Up Straight: The Ultimate Guide to Attending Meetings

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Business meetings are an inevitable part of modern business life. Love them or hate them, it’s difficult to see how, in such an inter-connected world, businesses could flourish without them. You may have attended hundreds of meetings, but how many of them were useful? It’s very easy to blame the chairperson when meetings aren’t exciting or effective. But, as an attendee, are you doing everything you could and should do to make each meeting a success?

Dos:

1. Arrive on time

Being late is a terrible offence. The chair of the meeting may have to adjust the agenda and you give other attendees the impression that you feel your time is more valuable than theirs. It’s a dreadful way to get things started.

2. Prepare

A good chairperson will have sent out a brief for the meeting. Ensure you read all necessary material and prepare your thoughts on the topics you’re going to cover. Prepare your ideas and comments beforehand. This is the best way to help meet the objectives of the meeting.

If you feel that the briefing materials are not comprehensive enough or effective, ask for more information about what you’re going to cover and what decisions need to be made.

3. Listen

Having prepared extensively, you may be keen to share your wisdom with the rest of the team. However, it’s better to listen carefully to everyone else’s contributions and review your original thoughts in the light of their perspectives. There’s nothing wrong in changing your position if you feel that another view is better.

In such instances, be gracious, offering your support to this alternate view. You’ll find, over time, that others will follow your example so that the best ideas are championed, not simply those that are extolled by the louder members of the group.

4. Be clear and concise

Once you’ve heard the other views in a meeting, assess whether your ideas are better. If you believe so, then it’s time to speak up. Let everyone know your idea clearly and concisely. Express why you feel it’s as valid (or better) than an alternative idea. Present any evidence to support your position, encouraging others to review and challenge your idea.

5. Be positive

How many times have you seen a meeting end unsuccessfully because the energy has left the room or because problems seem too difficult to resolve? To be an effective meeting attendee, you share the responsibility of keeping everyone positive. Encourage constructive criticism and push for more ideas or potential solutions when things seem difficult.

Don’ts:

1. Move the meeting away from the agenda

It’s easy to get carried away with a train of thought, or a particular topic you feel passionately about, but avoid the temptation to take the meeting away from the agenda. If there are other ideas that you feel are important, ask the chairperson to add them to A.O.B or to set up another meeting to cover those specific issues.

2. Criticise individuals

Whilst you may not agree with someone else’s point of view, avoid personal comments or criticisms. Keep your points focused on the ideas, not the personalities behind them. It’s counterproductive to the meeting, and may even be considered as bullying!

3. Be too quick to dismiss ideas

Sometimes, if you give an idea a chance to be explored fully, it will lead to something special. Give each idea time to develop, as long as it’s part of the meeting agenda.

4. Drown small voices

You may be highly charismatic and articulate. However, be mindful of those who are not. Quiet people have as many great ideas as extroverts and you’ll be suppressing them if you don’t give everyone a chance to express views.

Whilst attending a meeting may not be the highlight of your week, ensure you’re doing all you can to make it a productive affair. If you’re doing your bit, but meetings are still getting you down, you may find yourself agreeing with author Ashleigh Brilliant, who suggested, “meetings are held to discuss many problems which would never arise if we held fewer meetings!”

Heather Foley is a consultant at ETS, Expert Training Systems, HR technology specialist.

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