Skills for the Young Professional: How to Behave in Meetings

By Megan Bosworth (’12)

People gathered for a meeting“Let’s set up a meeting.” This phrase is so common to the workplace that it creates a universal truth for most offices: lots of meetings. If you work in an office, you can almost guarantee that a portion of your time each week, maybe even every day, is spent in a room with your colleagues, discussing future projects and plans.

On the surface, attending meetings seems quite simple; but as is the case with most skills in the world of work, there’s a way to do it, and there’s a way to do it well. There’s more to behaving in meetings than arriving on time and resisting the urge to check your phone! In fact, because much of your available working time is spent in meetings, how you show up in that space and interact with your colleagues can have real impacts on your career.

So, let’s think about how you can make the most of this time – and set yourself apart as a motivated, engaged worker.

Understand that preparation is key.

Plan to prepare both before and after the meeting. Think of it as preparing for the meeting and preparing for the work that is created from the meeting. Before you walk into the room, take five minutes to think through these questions: What’s the purpose of this meeting? Who are the key players in attendance? What value can I add by being present? What’s my role in this conversation? What do I need to gain from the discussion?

By answering these questions in advance of the meeting, you’ll have a strong handle on how you need to show up to be a contributing member of this discussion – and you’ll make the most of the time you spend in that important conversation with your colleagues.

Preparing after the meeting is a step most people will forget. They rush back to their desks to check email, or worse, to another meeting. But you’ll benefit by taking five minutes immediately following the meeting to review your notes and gather your next steps. What do you need to add to your to-do list? Do you need to ask a question of a colleague? Do you need to create a document?

These tasks are the real work of your job. They’re important. When you capture your thoughts post-meeting, you ensure that no task slips your mind and establish yourself as someone who consistently delivers.

Be cautious in your use of technology.

You may have found that using your laptop to take notes was most effective for your learning style in the past. While your style may still be the same, refrain from the use of technology at first. Gauge your office culture. Do people tote their laptops to every meeting? Or do they bring good old fashioned pen and paper?

While it’s important to notice the behaviors of others, assess how you work best. When is your attention level at its highest? When are you more focused on the task at hand? Multitasking by also checking email may seem very efficient, but it wreaks havoc on your brain’s ability to concentrate in the present moment.

Remember that perception is reality in many cases. While you may be perfectly focused on the meeting, there could be colleagues who judge your note-taking on your phone as distracted and youthful. Aim for your youthfulness to only ever surprise and impress your colleagues. Avoid fulfilling any preconceived or misguided assumptions your colleagues may hold about millennials. Once you’ve built a sense of trust with your co-workers, it may not matter how you take notes. Be mindful in the beginning, and pay attention to the culture.

Make a pledge to ask a thoughtful question.

In any meeting or presentation, you can almost guarantee there will be a space to ask questions. This time is for exchanging ideas, gaining clarification, and seeking feedback. Not everyone is comfortable asking questions into a large room, but the old adage is true: if you have the question, there’s a good chance someone else is pondering that same thought. So call on your courage, and ask!

If you struggle with thinking of something worthwhile to ask, here’s an easy tip: when you’re listening to the conversation, make a note of something that piqued your curiosity. Interesting questions naturally emerge from a place of curiosity. Refer back to your note when the time for questions presents itself and voice your thought.

By preparing ahead of time, demonstrating your attention, and asking a thoughtful question, you’ll quickly signal to your colleagues that you’re committed to the work. You’ll set yourself apart as someone who can be trusted to follow-up and do really good work. And that’s how you develop your professional skill-set and positively impact your career!

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