There are two ends of the meeting spectrum. One is more casual and encourages employee participation at all levels. The other is a more formal atmosphere where decisions are made from the top down according to set agendas.
Learn the Meeting Culture
Figure out where your organization lies on the spectrum by paying close attention to the company culture during meetings – and act accordingly. Consider the following:
- Do meetings start and end on time?
- Are formal agendas common or rare?
- How long does the leader speak, if at all?
- How much is everyone’s feedbackencouraged?
- Do participants joke around with each other? With the boss?
Meetings “Make the Man” (or Woman)
Meetings may make your first impression, and will amplify the way you’re perceived – either positively or negatively. Clothing should be culture appropriate. Poor posture or manners won’t impress anyone. And please, stay awake and pay attention; I’ve seen more people fast asleep in the middle of meetings than they’d like to admit.
Participate when Appropriate
When it comes time to actively participate, know when to offer your input and when to keep quiet— but always be ready to contribute. If you’re in a place where you feel your feedback is welcome, speak your mind. Make sure, however, that you know what you’re talking about. Serving up bad information is the fastest way to lose credibility. My general rule as I join meetings: I only speak when I can say something from a place of experience or expertise that adds value.
Consider another important note (I’ve learned the hard way): Avoid the trademark rookie mistake of attending meetings without a way to take notes – an old-fashioned notepad, a laptop or iPad are all acceptable; a smartphone, however, is typically not (other attendees will undoubtedly think you are texting). Your notes will help you to remember personal assignments, and will help you stay on top of discussion topics that span multiple meetings.
Show You’re a Team Player
At the end of a meeting, it’s common for the leader to identify action items or tasks to be completed, often followed by a request for volunteers. While you don’t have to throw your hand up every time, this is a great way to show your commitment and demonstrate that you’re a “team-player.”
As you develop this reputation, coworkers will look to you more often with chances to grow in your role. Further enhance this position as the “new guy who gets it” by making a habit of proposing solutions as opposed to just asking questions. This attitude will separate you from the pack.
Prepare for the Unexpected
When attending meetings, prepare for the unexpected – and learn as you go. Here are some lessons I’ve learned:
- People sometimes talk and make a good point, but they don’t influence their listeners because they fail to say their piece with confidence; speak with certainty
- A CEO or other leader may choose not to provide detailed direction on a project because she feels she already provided sufficient input; be prepared to ask clarifying questions
- A personal favorite: At a meeting full of old-school executives, a new guy used the phrase, “…balls to the wall”. Don’t be that guy… understand the culture (or be quiet until you do).
One critical aspect of meetings, underestimated by many, is that each is a public speaking opportunity – even if what you have to say is brief. Take every advantage; the ability to engage an audience is a highly-regarded skill that managers, executives and mentors look for in potential leaders.
Every business meeting is a performance – no matter how big, or small, the stage. As a performing player, it’s up to you bring your A-game, every time.
About the Author: Seth Carr has more than a decade of professional writing experience. He’s held positions in both the corporate and non-profit worlds (LexisNexis, District of Columbia Bar, Research Foundation for SUNY, Cengage Learning), crafting succinct messages for the legal, academic and research communities. An alum from the University of Maryland at College Park with a degree in communications, Seth lives with his wife and daughter in Albany, NY. Connect with Seth on Twitter for guidance on your college to career transition.