In my career to date, I estimate that I must have attended more than two thousand meetings. Over the years, I have received some criticism about my performance within them. I’ve been told that sometimes I talk too much, that I have a tendency to overelaboration, or that I talk when I should be listening. I view these comments as constructive and have taken them on board to help me improve how I conduct myself when I am required to meet with other people in a professional context.
Studies have revealed that meetings are not necessarily conducive to productivity. In fact, it has been shown that up to one third of meetings are a waste of time. But despite this research being out there, we still schedule and attend meetings as if they are an essential component of doing business. Thanks to this ingrained attitude, it doesn’t look like we will be conducting business free of meetings anytime soon.
Because the status quo of holding regular meetings is something that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future, I have put together eight tips that I believe enhance the effectiveness of formal professional interactions.
1. Be prepared and be on time
Make sure you arrive on time and that you are fully prepared for the meeting ahead. If you can, arrive 15-20 minutes early, as this will give you time to settle in, become acquainted with the surroundings and gather your thoughts. If you are a PR professional and attending a client meeting, arriving early shows your eagerness to work and service your client.
2. Introduce yourself properly
Approach the person or people you are meeting and introduce yourself with confidence. Make sure everyone knows who you are and what your designation is. If you are introducing others, start with the person who is most senior first.
3. Have a clear agenda
This will help you to have a constructive and time-effective meeting. A clear agenda will make it easier for you to focus on what is important and keep everyone on track without talking about non-essential issues. A discursive conversation that takes in many non-relevant aspects will only serve to dilute the main points you had intended to discuss.
4. Sit appropriately
If it’s a sit-down meeting, you should adjust your chair so that you are at equal height with everyone else at the table. Avoid slouching. You need to be taken seriously and sitting up straight is a sign of confidence and assertiveness.
5. Make sure you are heard
When it is your turn to say something, you should speak loudly enough so that everyone can hear you. Talking softly can give an impression of a lack of confidence and generate an overall negative image that will affect the impact of your address or message.
6. Understand the speaking rules
It is not polite to interrupt others – always try to listen first and then answer in turn. In some meetings, you may have to interrupt at some point in order to be heard. If this is the case, make sure you do so politely and preface your interjection with “Excuse me for interrupting…” or similar. Politeness helps maintain a positive atmosphere that will go a long way to ensuring a productive meeting.
7. Keep your mobile out of sight
Professionals often place their phones on the table during meetings. Don’t do this. Even if silenced, your phone can be a source of distraction, especially if it lights up with incoming calls or messages. If your phone pulls you away from the agenda, even momentarily, your inattention can be perceived as rudeness and a failure to be fully engaged. Instead, keep your phone in your pocket and on vibrate mode. If you are awaiting an important call that cannot be avoided, inform your meeting colleagues of the situation before you start so that they are prepared. When the call comes in, ask politely to be excused and leave the room to take it when it comes in.
8. Don’t save all your questions for the end
Finally, make sure that you ask your questions at appropriate times throughout the course of the meeting. Avoid saving up a multitude of enquires that you fire out just as everyone is getting ready to leave. It may not be exactly impolite, but it certainly won’t endear you to your meeting colleagues who have other business to attend to.
As a final note, I want to say that as much as we may feel that meetings are unnecessary a lot of the time, they are still important forums that place you in front of clients, coworkers and bosses. They will be judging you from your performance within them. Conducting yourself professionally, politely and with consideration will help create a positive lasting impression.