How to become a meeting superstar

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If you want to look smart in meetings here is some practical advice that will turn you into a meeting superstar…

I was going to being this post with the line: Have you ever attended a bad meeting? But, d’uh, of course you have! Bad meetings outnumber good ones by a ratio of at least nine to one.

I started thinking about meetings yesterday when I read a very funny blog post titled How to Look Smart in Meetings, on the 99U website. (Amusing suggestions included thanking every for attending — a move that makes you look like the organizer of the event — and turning percentages into fractions — so if someone says, 25% you stroke you chin and say, “ah, one in four.”)

But as I reflected on the post, I realized it was a kind of frat boy cheat sheet for getting the most benefit while doing the least amount of work. (The image at the top of the 99U post — a group of men in suits — enhanced this impression.) Here, then, are my more serious suggestions about how to look smart in meetings:

  1. Don’t go to meetings that aren’t important or useful to you. There’s nothing worse than a meeting that holds no importance for you. You’ll be bored and you’re unlikely to contribute anything useful. Instead of wasting everyone’s time, try to get yourself excused from the meeting.
  2. Put your cellphone away. There’s nothing more disrespectful than someone who keeps their eyes on their cellphone during an entire meeting. Surely, the world won’t end if you turn it off for 30 to 60 minutes.
  3. Review meeting material before the meeting starts. Don’t be reading the materials in the middle of the meeting; it will make you look disorganized and ill-prepared. At the very least, find five minutes in your schedule to review the notes and any handouts beforehand.
  4. Take notes during the meeting. This is useful, even if someone else is taking minutes. Two reasons: (1) Not all minute-takers are equally good and/or detailed enough. If you take your own notes you’re more likely to record exactly what you need to remember. (2) Taking notes will focus your mind and attention and stop you from daydreaming or becoming disengaged.
  5. Give honest feedback during the meeting. Show offs want to ask difficult questions so they can make someone else look bad. Leaders, instead, want to make others look good. You can do this too by expressing appreciation, support or even (positive) surprise at something someone else says. How do you know if it’s the right thing to say? Ask yourself: ‘If someone said this to me, would it make me feel good?’ If the answer is yes, then say it!
  6. Resolve to ask one question at the meeting. Questions show engagement. It’s easy to sit and say nothing at a meeting. Push yourself to ask at least one question by making that your key goal.

Some meetings are nothing more than a waste of time. But your time doesn’t have to be wasted if you approach meetings in a strategic way.

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