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My Rules for Attending Meetings

I hate meetings. I really do. So if I have to attend a meeting, I want it to be productive. Over the years I’ve actually fired employees who couldn’t control themselves during meetings (I’ll explain later). So if you’re on my team and attending a client meeting, branding meeting, project meeting or any other kind of meeting with me, you have to know what I expect. Here’s a list of things I want my people to know during a meeting, and the list might be worth sharing with your team as well:

1) Listen.  Nothing is more important in a meeting than simply listening. Too many people in meetings aren’t really listening, they’re just thinking of the next thing to say. That never works, because if you haven’t been listening, whatever you say will be wrong or inappropriate. One of the people I fired couldn’t keep his mouth shut during client meetings. He was a brand new employee, and knew nothing about the client or problem we were discussing. But he kept interrupting the meeting with his ideas – none of which were relevant to the problem. Over and over I asked him to control himself, but he simply couldn’t help it. So I had to let him go.

2) If an idea pops into your head, write it down first.  Never blurt out that brilliant revelation you just received. Jot it down first, and then see when it would be appropriate to interject into the conversation. Far too often, the idea that just hit you isn’t what we’re actually discussing at the moment. (Plus, writing it down gives you a minute to decide if it’s worth sharing at all.)

3) Don’t tell us about your life story, the dream project you’re working on, or some new insight you recently read about.  Above all, don’t preach. Honor the people in the room and focus on the task at hand. You don’t need to constantly remind us that you’re an important part of the meeting.

4) Do your homework.  Nothing is more embarrassing than tossing out an idea that’s already been tried or already failed. Learn about the client or project before walking in the room.  And if you don’t know, then lean over and whisper it to a colleague first. Make sure that what you contribute is something new and worth their time. Never walk into a meeting blind.

5) Stop interrupting!  Nothing anyone has to say is so important that it’s worth interrupting. Just bide your time, and speak when it’s appropriate. When you interrupt someone, you’re telling everyone in the meeting that his or her comment isn’t worth listening to, and that you’re much more important.

6) Finally, never dominate the meeting.  Keep your comments short and to the point. As you talk, watch the reactions of other people in the room. Are they listening? Are they interested? Or have they tuned you out? Cut to the chase. As my pastor father once described “popcorn testimonies” in church: “Pop up, pop off, then pop right back down.” That’s good advice for meetings.

Any good advice for meeting behavior I’ve left out?

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24 Comments

  1. Great read Phil. I can echo the last point about dominating meetings, nothing aggravates me more than being invited to a meeting that supposed to be open discussion, and one person dominates the conversation.

    Thanks again!

    JE

  2. These are great points, Phil. I might add another: If you’re leading the meeting, be sure to reiterate exactly what you hope to accomplish in this meeting. So many times, it seems we meet without clear direction at the get go. Make everyone’s time count and be specific.

  3. Here’s another one that drives me nuts: don’t use the meeting simply to go over what everyone should already know. I hate when I give a research report to a client, they distribute it to their team, then they ask me to present the findings in a meeting. You already have the findings. Your team has already had a chance to review both a summary and the full report. Why am I simply regurgitating what the report says in a group setting? Why not expect everyone to review the report and then we meet to discuss next steps, ideas, and recommendations, and/or give everyone a chance to review with me any questions or clarifications they need? That can actually accomplish something, rather than spending an hour presenting information their team has already had for a week. Too often people do what they think is expected or is standard procedure, rather than what will actually make a difference.

    1. Yes, some things are better NOT done in meetings. And that overlaps with church meetings. I’m a visual learner, so an auditory talk (like a sermon) is a waste of time for me. I’d rather read it. Reports should be read not presented.

    2. I totally agree, Ron. I’ve lived in Latin America for 23 years now and find this very common here. I have to bite my tongue in some places, but where I’m in charge of a meeting, everyone knows they need to come prepared.

  4. Excellent! I hate meetings too. When I have a meeting, I value the other person’s time. That’s one thing that drives me crazy is when people are not respectful of everyone’s time. They show their lack of respect by not providing an agenda or letting the client speak. When I’m meeting with a client, I respect their time by providing an agenda and shutting it down by the end time. I’m also huge on having conference calls/skype/google hangouts when it is appropriate. Of course somethings are better said in person.

  5. Meetings are funny things. Some I hate, some I love. When I worked in TV News we had two daily meetings. I enjoyed those. More recently we used to have a Monday team meeting. I hated that. Both were necessary but the difference was that people prepared for the News meeting and despite cajoling, pestering and pressurising they didn’t for the team meeting. So my -1 on your list would be ‘do your homework before the meeting’!

    The second thought is something that may well be cross-cultural. I was discussing this with a white South African colleague recently. He does what we, in the UK, call an ‘American Schedule’… by that I mean he crams loads of meetings into a day. But in many parts of the world a meeting is not merely about business and function, it’s about relationships. Hence I never schedule more than one morning and one afternoon meeting. I work with Middle Easterners and I found the same with black Africans… relationship is more important than agenda. And the thing is, I think that was the way of the Messiah too… relationship always stumped agenda.

    1. Brilliant insight Richard. You’re correct about the cultural differences in meetings. For me – the relationship is important, but with meetings, I say cut to the chase! 🙂

      1. Some of your posts often get me thinking for days afterwards, and this was one of them!

        I think personality type may be closely related to how meetings work. I tried Googling that and found nothing. I test as Meyers-Briggs ENFP and I know my expectations and productivity in a meeting will be radically different from my INFJ wife. Different meeting styles will either increase or diminish the productivity of different personality types. When we worked in the USA most of the meetings drive me nuts… don’t get me wrong I love and work closely with Americans and it’s highly likely that it was not Americans per se but this group that was not a match… anyhow I almost always came out depressed, yet close colleagues would come out saying ‘You convinced them, well done!’. For me the process is almost more important than the bottom line.

        I also think time of day is alsosignificant. Don’t bother with a meeting before 10am if you want any input from me. However, I have very productive meetings at 2am or later in Egypt!

    1. Physical posture is important in communication. Standing meetings, boardroom style meetings and sofa type meetings are all different. Standing meetings are great if you are tall. I’m not and so standing makes me feel intimidated. When I go to boardroom style meetings I always try to make sure that it’s not an us and them scenario with people on opposing sides of the table. My favourite are sofa type meetings: informal, relaxed. Productivity? They go from short to long along the continuum from standing to sofa, but time is not a measure of productivity. The most productive are, for me, always he sofa style meetings. They are better for dialogue and discussing around ideas so that something really great comes out of them.

  6. Outstanding rules! Perhaps the only thing sometimes more unproductive than many meetings are conference calls. Love it when the boss goes around the call for “any last comments?” There is always one with a knuckle-headed question that causes everyone to miss lunch…

  7. I try to approach every meeting, personal, business, or otherwise, always as relational first, transactional second. Doesn’t matter if I’m trying to get money or a job, or convince somebody to join forces, I need to remind myself daily that the people in the room matter more to God and therefore me than anything else. It shifts my attitude from wanting to be served to being a servant. This doesn’t mean it’ll end up in a full-blown tent revival, but it makes me focus fully on them instead of my ego and agenda. It’s amazing how people pick up on it, even with nothing said. A servant’s heart is all about being, not doing. I know this may sound very Christianese to some, but I couldn’t care less, it’s a powerful tool to engage people where they’re at. Also, speaking of being relational, your points sound very appropriate for that other “meeting” of sorts, aka marriage…
    1) LISTEN
    2) If anything pops into your head, consider it first. Never blurt out that brilliant revelation you just received (especially if it’s concerning your spouse)
    3) Honor your spouse and focus on the task at hand

    4) Do your homework: Get to know your spouse better every day (it takes a lifetime…)
    5) Stop interrupting!
    6) Never dominate

  8. Great article Phil and some very useful comments too, thanks to all for sharing. With over two decades in Latin America, I’m still struggling with how to balance the relational aspect of meetings with the productivity part.

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