Have you ever finished a meeting and wished you had made a better contribution? So often, when we talk about effective meetings, we focus on the meeting organiser, the person who is planning it and bringing it all together. But what about everyone else?
What if you could be a better meeting attendee? What difference could that make, I wonder? In this article, I will share some things you can do differently to be a better meeting attendee.
What is your role in the meeting?
The first thing you must understand about attending a meeting is why you are there. Have you ever been in a meeting, and halfway through, you’re wondering, “What am I doing here?” It’s usually halfway through the agenda, and you’re trying to refocus for the remainder of the hour.
But what if we ask that question just before the meeting started instead of halfway through? Whether walking down the corridor or getting ready to log in online, pause and remind yourself what you will bring to the meeting.
Are you there to make a decision, to listen and learn, or to provide an alternative perspective? Are you representing your team or someone else and must relay information from the meeting? Why are you there? Your role is often much more than “just an attendee”.
If you’re not sure why you’re there, ask. I am sure the person organising the meeting would prefer it if everyone knew their purpose and were on the same page.
How you can be more present in the meeting.
Your ability to listen and contribute well in a meeting depends on how present you are. Unfortunately, distractions and interruptions mean that this is easier said than done. I have been guilty of scrolling while in a meeting, usually when it’s on a point I’m not interested in. And I know I’m not the only one.
But I have also been the organiser whose motivation and energy deflated as I realised no one was listening. And I know I’m not the only one that has happened to either.
There is a simple change you can make if you want to be a more present attendee. Push back your chair a couple of inches so you can’t reach your keyboard or phone. You’ll be less likely to reach for them, and your eyes will get a welcome break from being so close to the screen.
Make the most of your meeting by taking notes.
If you want to take your focus to the next level, take notes. I am a huge fan of note-taking during meetings; it’s not just for the person tasked to take the official minutes.
Note-taking helps you to stay focused on the current topic, it helps you to retain the information, and it’s a great reference for afterwards.
Best of all, it can help you interrupt the meeting less.
For many years, I would be the one who interrupted meetings. I would go in with my best intentions, but as soon as I had an idea or a question, I would interrupt and lead us all off track. I didn’t do it intentionally; I am an external thinker, which means that when I have an idea or a thought, I find it easier to process it by speaking aloud rather than thinking it through. While it’s helpful for me to do that, I know it’s not helpful for everyone else.
I discovered that writing down those thoughts as they came into my mind, whether a question or an idea, helped me to externalise it without interrupting the flow. And then, when it came to the Q&A or the contribution part of the meeting, I was prepared. So it is a win-win.
How to take notes as a meeting attendee.
If you want a structure for taking notes as an attendee, you can follow this format:
- If someone else says something interesting, begin the note with a dash. [-]
- If someone else says something important, begin the note with a star. [*]
- If you have an idea, begin the note with an exclamation point. [!]
- If you have a question, begin the note with a question mark. [?]
This approach is an easy way to be a better, more organised contributor regardless of your role in the meeting.
Create space for meeting actions in your week.
If you attend many meetings, you might also have a lot of post-meeting work. These meeting actions would cause me a lot of additional stress because I didn’t have the time to complete them.
To help manage this, I began to schedule “meeting-action time” as soon as I received a meeting invite. The result was that I joined the meeting with a more open mindset. I was more willing to help and to take things on because I now had the space to do it.
Block out 30-60 minutes for this type of work on the same day or the day after a meeting. If your calendar is quite full, aim to schedule it for the same work week and consider if there is someone else who can help.
Mindset is key for more meaningful meetings.
Imagine if everyone, whether two people or 20, went into a meeting wishing for a win. What would happen if you all wanted to be engaged, be better listeners and did your best to support the others in the group? What if the goal was to make it the best meeting you ever attended?
Wouldn’t that create the best atmosphere for success?
Choose today to adopt that mindset more often and create more meaningful and impactful meetings.
Related Reading: The A-Model for Communication: A Guide for Line Managers