My husband and I are sharing how our work day was. He is telling me about certain people at a work meeting. The conversation was pretty much between 3 folks and the rest are just sitting there. Looking busy. Pretending to be interested. Pretending they understand. He felt that was a meeting he did not needed to be part of. And we started talking about what a good meeting looks like and how you run a good one.
I work for a tech company in the Silicon Valley. While not every company here is working in new technologies, the Silicon Valley is for sure the home of start-ups and tech companies. Once I joined a tech company, I realized meetings are such a big deal in this industry. I have been living in the Silicon Valley for over 12 years now. I did about a year and a half in retail, seven years in hospitality and nearly four years now since I made it to the tech industry. It was then when I learned about the amount of time folks spend in meetings in this industry… like a ton!
When I started in this industry, I was schocked about how much time they spend in meetings but it wasn’t my job to question it. I mean, I am administrative professional and large part of my time during my first gig included scheduling meeting, rescheduling meetings, adding more meetings, and meeting logistics. 80% of my work time I was looking at a calendar. I just wasn’t used to it because at the hotel we had very few team meetings. But during my second gig, I had a completely different executive. One whose day wasn’t 10 hours long of back-to-back meetings. One who was good at questioning requests for his time and who was good at delegating what was needed. Knowledge is power people! His screening process was much more thorough, and he limited it to attend mandatory meetings only. So I learned to be strategic with his time. Ask the right questions to make sure my executive’s time wasn’t wasted. I applied to my own schedule which allowed me to find the time to invest on my education here at work. Score!
So back to the conversation I was having with my husband. He said to me: “can you believe you can take a class on how to have meetings?!” Me: “...um… yeah! And I bet you is a class more people should take.” And he is of course thinking that I am just following the crowds thinking it’s cool, but I have a good list of reason which I shared with him and now with you:
- Have a purpose for the meeting. You would think that is the case for every meeting you are invited to, but you will soon find out that is not the case most of the time. Meeting cadences are often set without a specific purpose for each instance. It might “make sense” if the group has to meet weekly, bi-weekly, or whichever cadence decided initially, but the truth is that this won’t always hold necessary as the project or conversations evolve. The needs will change but often people will fail to update their meeting reocurrance because it is easier to set it up one time for all eternity, than do it on as needed basis. Every meeting should have a purpose; a specific question that needs to be answered by the group.
- Only invite required attendees. In some companies they take the term “inclusive” to another extreme and they invite everyone to everything. That is not productive. It is not a good use of one’s time to awkardly sit in a meeting where one has absolutely no idea of what is being discussed so one’s feelings don’t get hurt or one feels part of the team. Invite key steakholders who can make decisions on the matter. Only those who have a piece to the puzzle you are trying to solve should be attending the meeting.
- Agenda. So you figured out what the problem is, you have identified stakeholders, and now what? A goal without a plan is just a wish. The agenda is part of that plan to reach your goal. Every meeting should be focused on crossing out an item, or many if your team is very efficient, off the checklist. Having an agenda is critical to staying on track. Most teams have that one person who talks too much if ya know what I mean… so find a nice way to ask this person to cut the fluff out of the conversation and stay on track. That might not be easy but is necessary to avoid wasting everyone’s time.
- Be smart with your presentations. If your deck includes 100 slides (ok, I mean a ridiculous large number, you get it right?) that basically tells your presentation word by word, then you have a problem. Two things are happening here that I can think of:
- This is clearly a share by email deck not a go over a meeting deck. You are wasting everyone’s time if you are reading everything from your slide. Clearly your deck can be shared by email to allow everyone to read it at their own pace and time, and reconvene to discuss at an actual meeting at a later time. Ok, this is my opinion so making that clear… again.
- Your presentation skills needs some real polishing! Maybe the meeting is really needed and decisions need to be made but when you come infront of a group of professionals with a long powerpoint presentation that tells the story for you, you need help. Slides should be used to guide the conversation. Think of them as an outline. You need perhaps two or three short bullets that highlight your key points and you work your presentation from there. I really like using images and go full on storytelling mode. You capture your audience’s attention better this way in my opinion.
- Know your audience. This one I think is pretty close with the smart presentations point. Using a deck, flash cards, a video, legos or even apples for your presentation comes down to your audience. Even if you role is as participant and not presenter, know the audience. Whether you are trying to sell your strategy, voice your opinion, bring a solution, or whatever it is you want to bring to the table, be aware of who is sitting at the table and how to best get your point accross. I have to run my cub scouts meeting on Mondays. We are talking about an audience made of 1st graders (and their moms) who have a ton of questions and ideas. Trust me, I need to prepare for my meetings! I need to be able to engage them, keep them busy, and make sure they are learning something. And that is just my volunteer work once a week. So imagine how much more you need to prepare when you are presenting to professionals, who have tons of opinions and who are “multitasking”…. yup, you guessed it right, you need to prepare a lot more to run a productive meeting.
- Be respectful. Whichever sit you have at the table, be respectful. It is awfully annoying when you are presenting and people are chatting on the sides. Rude much! So don’t be that person who disrespects the presenter, the audience, the meeting itself. Be present and respect other’s ideas even if you don’t agree with them. We are adults here, thank you!
These are some points for you to consider whether you organize meetings or attend them. Know is okay to decline a meeting that you shouldn’t be part of. Know is okay to tell people “I am not the correct person for this request” and make sure to guide them in the right direction if you can. Know is okay to propose a new time for a meeting if you have a piece of the puzzle but you are swamped with other priorities. We all get busy, and that is understandable. It all comes down to how you push back.
Remember that if you are part of a team, you need to be flexible if you can. Everyone is trying their best with their piece of the puzzle and as a good team member you are to try your best to help with that. Depending on your role you might have more flexibility than others, but in most companies it comes down to: one team, one dream. Do your part as best as you can! Hope you are making the most of your time and these tips help you a bit. I am happy to hear any more tips you have.
Mama Bear Kim