Best Practices for Meeting Participants
7 Questions to Answer Before You Attend Your Next Meeting
1. Do I Really Need to Be There?
I have yet to meet someone who shared that they were so bored at work due to their lack of to-dos. Most often that list grows faster than we can execute leaving us feeling frustrated and constantly behind schedule. I recall a time where I carved out a two-hour time slot to catch up on some project deliverables at the end of the week. I wouldn’t have been officially “caught up” with my task list but checking those deliverables of my list would have significantly reduced the feeling of being behind. At 8:00 AM that morning, you can probably guess what happened. My calendar pop up came on the screen with a meeting invitation that was marked “required.” You can hear the gas leaking from my productivity bubble.
Take a moment to map out every meeting you attend through the month similar to fig 1 below. Then, using a scale of 1-5, list the value of your contribution and the value of the actions, and the level of requirement to attend. Multiply across to get to the total value proposition of that meeting.
Figure 1 – Meeting Matrix
You are looking for two key numbers. The first is key meetings with low action value (column 3). It is not a rule but generally, if you can walk out of a meeting with no new action items, it is very likely that you could receive the information in a different format than a meeting. The other key number is the high requirement or expectation scale with a low value. Take Meeting 3 for example. You provide a little contribution. You receive no new action items. And you are expected to be there every time. Your attendance at this meeting needs to be evaluated.
2. What Value Do I Bring to the Table?
Depending on your position in your organization, you may or may not have the freedom to click the “Decline” button on calendar requests. But the least you can do is have an internal conversation and estimate what value proposition you provide by sitting at the table. Is it a hard value or a perceived value? A hard value is one in which you regularly contribute verbally or provide inputs that add to the meeting purpose. Perceived value is where you are deemed important by your colleagues and they feel like you just need to be there. If your attendance is required make sure you bring value to the meeting. There is no better testimony to your lack of value proposition than rarely contributing anything to meetings or rarely receiving action items as a result. The key is to find out what matters to your manager or the meeting facilitator.
Review the minutes of your most recent meetings attended and look for the value you have added or the actions you have received. If neither exists then consider a discussion with your manager or the meeting facilitator about being more selective about your required attendance.
Let’s clear the confusion right away. Action items are performance expectations. Get them done by the target established in the meeting and communicate to the team that they are completed. So much time is wasted reviewing incomplete action items.
If, by chance, you are unable to complete action items assigned to you communicate that to the team prior to the meeting. But don’t just say “I didn’t get this done.” Include an updated plan and the expected completion date for the team. This will help your section of the meeting proceed without interruption.
4. Am I Prepared?
I am going to use the phrase “this was funny” but it is anything but funny. I was prepping for a meeting and needed to print out some data packets to share during my portion. There was no reason to believe that anything would be different this time.
I pushed “Print” just before leaving my office with my laptop in hand. When I went to the printer there was an error message. Now I am panicking. I knew I should have given myself more time to prepare just in case something like this happened. In fact, I had considered printing and preparing the day before just to be sure. Murphy’s Law bit me hard. Lesson learned.
Prepare early and give yourself enough time in case the unfortunate circumstance delays getting all you need for the meeting.
5. Have I reviewed the agenda? Be prepared to add value to the issue.
Having an agenda before a meeting was discussed in Part I – a previous post. Here we will assume that the meeting organizer is following best practices by publishing an agenda ahead of time.
Reviewing the agenda helps you gather data prior to the meeting so that if or when you are called on for some input you will have the data to back up what you say. Another benefit is that a review of the agenda will help you frame your participation knowing when you can stay silent and avoid non-value added inputs to the conversations.
6. Do I have any related issues that were not on the published agenda?
This situation usually happens with recurring meetings. You have an issue that needs to be addressed. You submit it to the organizer. Then you see that it is not included on the agenda. Better to ask the organizer to include the issue prior to the meeting and receive feedback on why it will not make the agenda than to risk the awkwardness during the meeting.
7. Do I have the bandwidth to accept action items?
Have you been here as well? Your schedule is already overloaded. You barely had time to make this meeting. By then end, you have been assigned a couple of tasks with no capacity in your schedule to add any more.
One thing to consider is whether you can realistically contribute to the execution of the meeting team’s actions list. If you barely have time to attend, how will you have time to add more actions? Take this into consideration as you evaluate whether you should or should not attend a particular meeting.
Answering these critical 7 Questions will enable you to increase your meeting effectiveness, increase the value proposition, and reduce the time you spend on non-value activities. The 7 Questions reframed as 7 Best Practices for Meetings are:
- Do I Need to Be There
- Can I Add Value
- Are My Actions Completed
- Am I Prepared
- Have I Reviewed the Agenda
- Do I Have Other Issues Not On the Agenda
- Can I Realistically Accept Action Items
- Dieken, C. (n.d.). Talk Less, Say More: Three Habits to Influence Others and Make things Happen: Kindle Edition. Wiley
- Elliot, B. (n.d.). MAKE YOUR POINT!: SPEAK CLEARLY AND CONCISELY ANYPLACE, ANYTIME: Kindle Edition. AuthorHouse
- Granville, T. (n.d.). The New Articulate Executive: Look, Act and Sound Like a Leader: Kindle Edition. McGraw-Hill Education
- Lencioni, P. (n.d.). Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators (J-B Lencioni Series): Kindle Edition. Wiley
- Wortmann, J. (n.d.). Mastering Communication at Work: How to Lead, Manage, and Influence. Kindle Edition. McGraw-Hill Education