Who doesn’t cringe when the office loudmouth launches into a self-congratulatory monologue that is completely irrelevant? Who hasn’t ever pitied a timid colleague who’s been targeted by the office bully? Or marvelled at a colleague’s ability to string together an array of buzzwords that mean absolutely nothing?
Yet no matter how mind-numbing things get, don’t be lulled into thinking that meetings aren’t important. The fact is, they can make – or break – your career. Here are 10 things you should never do in a meeting:
1. Arrive Late. Nothing says “I’m disorganised” like walking into a meeting which is already in progress. Arriving a few minutes early not only demonstrates that you respect your colleagues’ time, but guarantees you get a good seat as well.
2. Be Unprepared. If you’ve been given an agenda or materials beforehand, read them. Think of any questions you have or contributions you could make to the subjects being discussed.
3. Monopolise the Conversation. When the discussion starts, it is good manners to let more senior figures contribute first. Once they’ve said their piece, make your points concisely. Don’t drone on, or feel compelled to speak at all if you don’t have anything useful to say. As the old adage goes, “Better to be thought a fool, than speak and remove all doubt.”
4. Make Your Statements Sound Like Questions. Phrasing your statements as questions invites others to say no, argue or take credit for your ideas. Make statements, such as, “Let’s do more research on that.”
5. Misread Signals. Try to gauge the needs and mood of those in the room. Listen carefully to what people are saying to discern how receptive they might be to your ideas. You need to make your message relevant to your audience. For example, if everyone is focused on cutting costs and you’re angling for a system upgrade, you’ll either want to stress how the new software will save money, or table your request for another day.
6. Be Intimidated. Unfortunately, some of your colleagues may view meetings as a battleground and themselves as verbal gladiators, sparring for the boss’s favour. If you find yourself the victim of a put-down or accusation, calmly defend yourself. If you need to buy time to think, do so with a question that will make your attacker accountable. For example: “Andrew, when did you start thinking I don’t care about our sales results?”
7. Chew Gum. The smacking, popping, cracking and cow-like chewing are annoying. Plus, it’s rude and unprofessional. Need we say more?
8. Keep Your Mobile Phone On. You turn it off in restaurants and at the cinema. Turn it off for your meeting. A ringing phone interrupts the presenter and distracts the audience. And whatever you do, never take a call in the middle of a meeting.
9. Wander Off Topic. Don’t hijack the agenda. Stay focused on what you and your team are trying to accomplish. If you must digress into unrelated areas, make sure it’s alright with the others present. A good way to handle important issues not related to the topic at hand is to record them on a flipchart and revisit them at an appropriate time.
10. Miss It. Of course, you might get more done if you forgo a meeting to stay at your desk and do your actual work. But if the meeting was called by someone higher up in the organisation, you’ll miss an opportunity to make yourself known. Remember, in the end, meetings aren’t just about productivity; they are also about projecting a positive image and building professional relationships.