Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or new to the professional world, being able to lead a meeting is an important skill. Conducting a meeting allows us to collaborate with our team, which is extremely important in today’s business world. However, meetings often get a bad reputation for being a waste of time. This can happen for a number of reasons, but is primarily due to lack of preparation. Let’s review a few key ingredients to leading a successful meeting.
- Be Prepared – Make an agenda, and spend time preparing for your meeting. Even if you only have a few items to cover, write them down and spend a few minutes to review them prior to the meeting. This is valuable because it puts you in the right mindset, and gives you the confidence to lead the meeting. Of course there will always be impromptu meetings that you can’t prepare for, but make these the exception to the rule.
- Time – Be respectful of everyone’s time. You owe it to your team to be punctual and start the meeting on time. Likewise, we all have busy schedules, so make sure the meeting doesn’t run longer than originally scheduled. Being prepared and making your agenda will help with scheduling and understanding how much time you need.
- Keep the meeting on-task – It’s your job to communicate effectively, and cover the entire agenda. If a particular topic is consuming too much time, table it and come back to it. Meetings are often frustrating when they veer off topic and don’t cover the intended material.
- Content – It’s important to have all the artifacts ready for your team prior to the meeting. If you’re sharing your agenda with everyone, have enough copies printed and ready to go. It may also be appropriate to send electronic copies of documents or presentations prior to the meeting. Regardless of the content, make sure everyone has what they need for your meeting.
- Avoid distractions – Being a good listener is a key trait to being a good leader. Remaining engaged and avoiding distractions during meetings is a challenging tasks in today’s world. It’s far too easy to check email during meetings in an attempt to multi-task. Set a good example and avoid these distractions, further proving that you’re committed to your team.
- Audience – Get the right people at the table. Again, going through the exercise of preparing your agenda should spell out pretty clearly who needs to be there. Be careful not to over invite either. Having too many people in a meeting can make it difficult to maintain productive conversation.
- Give everyone a chance to speak – We’ve all been in those meetings where it seems like one person does all the talking, meanwhile the others in the room are waiting patiently for their opportunity. Don’t be afraid to politely say, “Thank you for your input, but I’d like to allow some time for others to weigh-in as well.”
- Know your environment – If you have a digital presentation, do your research to know what technology is available (computer, projector, etc.). Get there a few minutes early to setup and load your presentation.
- Action items and meeting minutes – wrap up your meeting by summarizing any action items that came up during the meeting. Additionally, send out some brief meeting minutes afterwards for everyone to reference.
Meetings are your opportunity to interact and build relationships with your coworkers. As a leader, your role is crucial to the success of the meeting. Show your commitment to your team by taking some time to make a plan. Be respectful of everyone’s time, keep the meeting on-task, and keep everyone engaged and your time spent together is sure to be productive.
Your communication style defines your personal brand. It’s how you interact with people and build relationships. Strong communication skills builds trust and respect, and ultimately your professional credibility. It is the most important skill for influencing people and advancing your career. The take-away is this:
Great careers are built on a foundation of strong communication skills.
As an engineer, my day-to-day job involves a huge amount of technical details. For the folks I’ve mentored in my career, I’ve always said the skill that separates good engineers from great engineers is communication. Good engineers can design and build a quality product. Great engineers can do that along with communicating the details effectively to everyone involved. This theory isn’t unique to engineering; it applies to all disciplines. Regardless of your profession, being a strong communicator will put you in a position to succeed.
What can you do to be an effective communicator? Here are some ideas.
- Learn proper grammar and spelling – this one is at the top of the list for a reason. Invest the time to learn proper grammar and spelling. As the old adage goes, “You only get one chance to set a first impression”, and your communication style sets the tone for this interaction. If you inject spelling and grammar mistakes, then people will begin to question the credibility of the content of your message. Technology has come a long way to helping us with this, but it’s not fool-proof.
- Know your audience – Knowing the right level of detail to give your audience is extremely important. Whether you’re writing an email or giving a speech, take the time to learn what your audience is interested in hearing. Not giving them the right amount of details (too much or too little) can cause confusion, which is almost worse than not communicating at all.
- Over Communicate – Yes, there is a point where you can over communicate, but the threshold is pretty high. Err on the side of caution and send the email. This is especially true as you transition to a position of leadership. Keeping your team informed will always be beneficial.
- Phone a friend – Whenever I’m sending an important email, or delivering a presentation, I always run it by a coworker first to make sure my message is being received as I expected. It’s amazing how you can read your own email a dozen times and not see a mistake, but another set of eyes can catch it in an instant.
- Public speaking – These two words make most people’s skin crawl. But the fact of the matter is, for you to take the step to the next level this will be imperative. Trust me, for some it won’t be easy at first. But I can assure you it will get better. Reach out to others who can help you with this. Toastmasters is a phenomenal organization that has helped me work through my fears and become a better communicator.
- Stick to the facts – This is some of the best advice I received from one of my mentors. Don’t send emails while you’re upset about a particular subject. It’s perfectly fine to take some time and gather your thoughts. When you do send that email or make the phone call, stick to the facts. Remove your emotion and let the facts make the case for you.
- Be responsive – Answer emails and in a timely manner. Have you ever sent an email and felt like it fell into some kind of abyss? Frustrating, isn’t it? Do your best to avoid doing this to others. One good approach is to set aside 30 minutes at the end of your day to get caught up on email. Even if your response is “I need to check with Mary and I’ll get back to you when I have more information.” That feedback has provided great customer service. After all, aren’t we all in customer service?
In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell teaches us about the Law of the Lid. In this law, Maxwell explains that a person’s level of effectiveness is determined by their leadership ability. In other words, the lower his/her ability to lead, the lower their overall potential. The same can be said for communication. Without good communication skills, you’re going to be limited on how far you can go in your career. Build your career on a foundation of strong communication skills, and you’ll increase your level of influence and ultimately your overall success.