Organizations talk a lot about how to facilitate strong meetings, and there are even books and trainings on how to prepare for and execute productive meetings. The challenge is that, no matter how well you prepare, every attendee is still a variable that could impact the direction and outcome of the meeting.
The meeting facilitator should, ideally, be able to manage the attendees and keep the meeting on track, but it would be more efficient to approach the topic from both sides — attendees and facilitator — since attendees are just as responsible for the productiveness of the meeting as the facilitator is.
As a meeting participant, you have an important role to play in guiding the meeting towards the objective, and your contribution to accomplishing the objective is crucial. Here are some tips on how you can boost the productivity of a meeting as an attendee:
1. Only talk about items on the agenda
Everyone comes to a meeting looking to get value out of it, but the challenge is when you show up to a meeting with your own agenda, instead of focusing on the preset agenda.
There are two reasons this could make a meeting less productive: (1) the facilitator is not prepared to discuss other topics in detail, and (2) it takes time away from discussing the real agenda items.
If there is a topic you want to discuss, try this approach: Review the meeting agenda beforehand and send a note to the facilitator in advance requesting the additional item be placed on the agenda. If the agenda cannot accommodate a new item, find a separate time to discuss the topic.
2. Prepare and participate
Have you ever been in a meeting where the facilitator is asking questions, eliciting feedback, and all you hear are the proverbial crickets from the audience? Now, think about a time when you have walked out of that meeting feeling it was productive and your time was well spent.
Being an active participant is important in meetings; you were invited because you were identified as a person who could contribute to the ultimate goal, and you become a better participant when you do your prep work. I know schedules get busy, but if you’re not able to prepare for a meeting properly, it becomes more difficult for the group to achieve its objective.
If you do not have the time to adequately prepare, you can suggest that the meeting be pushed back — but do that in advance, not as you arrive at the meeting.
3. Remember your role
Something I will never understand is when meeting participants won’t allow the facilitator to facilitate. Like when someone asks the facilitator a question, and other people jump to respond. If the question was not directed toward you, defer to the facilitator. That’s their role, not yours, and without good facilitation, chaos rules.
If you are not the facilitator, you were invited to the meeting for another reason (i.e. awareness, technical guidance/perspective, decision making), so be sure to contribute within your role.
4. Actively listen while others are speaking
Just like when you are having a conversation with someone, you should not be thinking about an idea to propose as someone else is speaking during a meeting. Meetings are collaborative, and a value of brining multiple people into the same room to discuss a topic is that those people can all hear different perspectives to arrive at the best solution.
If you are zoning out thinking of a different idea, then you are not listening to the rationale of someone else’s proposal, which causes the group to continually recap discussions that already happened, instead of making progress.
5. Empower others to speak up
In a professional setting, there are all types of personalities. When you are in a meeting, you should take note of the different personalities of your colleagues and ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to share their thoughts.
Some meeting participants may be more reserved and hesitant about speaking. As an audience member, you can help make the meeting more productive by saying things like “I was talking with [colleague’s name] the other day about this, and they had a good idea. Do you want to share, [colleague’s name]?” It may be hard for people to have the spotlight on themselves, but with a simple introduction of an idea you thought was relevant to the topic, you empower others to speak up.
Meetings must be collaborative to achieve the intended goals, and you can contribute to creating an enjoyable and productive experience for yourself and others.
Being an attendee to a meeting does not get you off the hook for ensuring that it is productive. You play an active role in whether or not the objective is achieved, which is an empowering thought.
Use your power as an attendee for good, and follow the tips above to ensure you achieved the most from every meeting you attend!
Paige Kassalen loves to put her creativity to use by solving problems in emerging technical fields, and has been an IEEE member since 2012. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015, Kassalen began her career with Covestro LLC. in 2015, and soon became the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Fast Company and the Huffington Post.
After Solar Impulse, Kassalen helped Covestro develop its strategy for materials for the future of mobility, and shared her work at conferences around the United States. In 2020, Kassalen received a Master of Information Systems Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and now applies her problem-solving skills to the finance industry, where she works with teams to develop big data strategies and implement innovative technologies.
Read more of Paige’s Career Power-Up articles here.