How to Pull Your Weight at a Meeting

Meetings consume corporate America. In the past 15 years, American workers have been spending more and more time in meetings. A survey released last week by the software firm Clarizen and Harris Poll reports that the average American office worker spends 9+ hours (more than a day!) every week getting ready for or attending meetings. That number is up almost 14 percent from the last survey four years ago. To make it worse, time in meetings is continuing to grow at a substantial 8-10% annually and there is no sign of letting up according to Michael Mankins from Bain & Co.

Mattel, Apple and Google, among others, are leading the way to reduce the number of meetings and the time spent in them. In fact, recently Mattel issued specific rules to follow at every meeting such as, each meeting must have a goal and that a decision needs to be made in three meetings. However, most employees are not as fortunate and are stuck in poorly run meetings that go far longer than they need to. (Think Parkinson’s Law — a meeting will take as long as it is scheduled to last even though the outcome is similar whether the meeting lasts an hour or more. Research has proven this principle to be true.)

Mattel, Apple and Google, among others, are leading the way to reduce the number of meetings and the time spent in them. In fact, recently Mattel issued specific rules to follow at every meeting such as, each meeting must have a goal and that a decision needs to be made in three meetings. However, most employees are not as fortunate and are stuck in poorly run meetings that go far longer than they need to. (Think Parkinson’s Law — a meeting will take as long as it is scheduled to last even though the outcome is similar whether the meeting lasts an hour or more. Research has proven this principle to be true.)

  • Can you add value? If not, bow out.
  • Enter the date and time of the meeting into your planner as soon as you are invited. Leave open time intentionally before and after the meeting for returning phone calls, checking email, etc.
  • Prepare thoroughly for the meeting. You may need to block out time on your planner ahead of time to read the agenda and information and do any necessary research.
  • Arrive on time for the meeting. (This can’t be emphasized enough!). See how to start meetings on time.
  • Contribute to the conversation and feel free to disagree, as long as you can back up your statements. Welcome the controversy! Give and take discussions are healthy and often lead to productive solutions which is the purpose of a meeting. Otherwise, why bother to talk in the first place?
  • Argue fairly and only over ideas. Avoid, at all costs, turning arguments into personal accusations.
  • Express your point-of-view even if a senior executive is running the meeting. While this may feel difficult, a good leader appreciates hearing different sides of the story.
  • Pay attention even if you are surrounded by colleagues checking emails, doodling and reading reports.
  • Do your part to make sure the meeting ends when it should. That means sticking to the topic and not digressing.
  • Take notes if you will remember better. This process also keeps you focused and involved.
  • Volunteer for a task if you are capable of accomplishing it and have (or will make) the time.
  • Ask for the item to be repeated if you miss something that was said. This is particularly important and is quite acceptable, especially if you are the designated note taker. Others may have also lost the thread and will appreciate the question. There are a number of diplomatic ways to ask the person who was speaking to repeat the comment:
    • Say that you want to write the comment down accurately;
    • Ask what a specific acronym stands for;
    • Apologize for missing/not hearing the comment;
    • Mention that you got a little confused. Can you clarify?
  • Read the follow up notes carefully, writing down your own tasks and due dates into your planner or to-do list. Decide when to start and complete each task. (I highlight them so the due dates stand out.)
  • Don’t give in to others around you who are not paying attention.

Try these suggestions and do your part as a meeting attendee to insure that the meetings you attend are successful. Give them a try.

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