First of all you’d be surprised how many meetings I attend given that I live on a farm and I hate to leave. And, to be honest, every time I’ve written advice about how to handle yourself in a meeting, I’ve actually written about how not to handle yourself.
Like, how to gross out investors. How to disrupt a board meeting by tweeting about a miscarriage. How to look crazy in a parent-teacher conference.
For me, each meeting begins with trying on every outfit I have and sending Melissa a picture to ask if it is okay for a meeting. The pinnacle of each meeting is when I wow people with my ideas, which is immediately mitigated by my insanely terrible social skills.
Speaking of my brilliant ideas, I am great at identifying my weaknesses.
Did I ever tell you the secret to writing a good sex scene? Or did I ever tell you that I got into a top creative writing program because the head of the program said I am the best sex writer he’s ever read?
The secret is to write about bad sex. So for example, you don’t want to write about giving the perfect blow job. You want to write about the blow job you start and then in the middle you decide you’re having a fat day and you can’t finish. The guy will tell you he doesn’t care that you’re fat. And you will say, “See? Even you admit that I’m fat.”
This is all to say that people are way more interested in what is going wrong in your life than what you’re great at. Which is why it’s really important to know your weaknesses. Because that’s what’s most interesting about you.
This also means, though, that at some point this blog is going to have to be a little more useful about how to shine in a meeting. So someone else is going to have to write the post, instead of me.
And that someone is Geoffrey James, author of Business Without the Bullsh*t.
I got his book in the mail along with the ten other career books that I get every week. It’s insane, really, how many career books I get. I want to tell you just forget it, don’t ever send me another. But now I am going to curse myself to receive more terrible career books when I tell you that his is the most useful, snappy career book I have seen in maybe five years.
So I am publishing an excerpt of one of Geoffrey’s chapters because now there will be something online that links competent meeting skills to Penelope Trunk. And also, now there will be something online that links how to do great sex writing to Geoffrey James, which I know he will appreciate.
So here’s the excerpt, and you should buy his book. Seriously, I don’t even know this guy. So it’s not like I did him a favor because he was nice to me at a conference or something. (Well, it’s not like I’d even go to a conference because probably conference skills stem from meeting skills. Which means, actually, that you should keep reading because you will shine at a conference as well.) So anyway, I have no obligation to say I love this book. But you should buy this book. It’s good. And here’s what he says about meetings:
1. Know your agenda.
A business meeting consumes time, and since you have a limited amount of time, you want to attend only those business meetings that move you closer to your goals. Therefore, when confronted with the opportunity to attend a meeting, first review your personal and career goals so you can assess whether it will be time well spent, and how you’ll spend the time if you attend.
2. Know why the meeting was called.
People call business meetings for seven reasons, so plan accordingly:
- To get you to decide something. (Probably useful to you.)
- To hone their own ideas. (Maybe useful to you.)
- To convey information. (Probably not useful; ask for a document instead)
- To test out a presentation. (Probably not useful unless it’s your boss.)
- To accomplish group writing. (Never useful to anybody.)
- To prove their own importance. (Never useful to anybody.)
- To fulfill a process step. (Never useful to anybody.)
3. Limit your meeting attendance.
If there’s any question as to whether your presence is required, compare your own goals to the meeting’s reason and decide whether the benefit of attending is greater than the benefit of doing something else. To make this decision, ask yourself two questions: “What’s in it for me?” and “What bad thing would happen if I pass on it?”
If the answer is close to “nothing” and “nothing,” find a reason not to attend. Skip the next steps; you’re done.
4. Prepare yourself well.
Since you’ve decided to attend the meeting, your goal is contribute to the meeting in a way that reinforces your own agenda. Research the background of the topics that will be discussed. Ask whoever called the meeting what will be discussed and how you should best prepare.
5. Gather your ideas.
As the meeting progresses, take notes about what’s said. Look for areas of discussion where you might be able to either add value, burnish your reputation, or push your own agenda. When you do say something, prepare to express it as a complete thought, rather than a half-prepared remark that peters out in the middle.
6. Read the room, then contribute.
The trick to contributing to a meeting (and looking good in the process) is to make your remarks toward the end of that part of the discussion. When you express your own view, speak confidently and in complete sentences. Then, if appropriate, ask a question that you feel will move the discussion in a direction in which you’d like to see the meeting go.
So that’s the excerpt, and at the end of each chapter Geoffrey has these snippets at the end of each chapter that are little summaries. Check this out.
SHORTCUT: ATTENDING MEETINGS
- TREAT meetings as a possible way to advance your agenda.
- SOME types of meetings can be useful; others are usually not.
- DECIDE whether each meeting will be useful or useless.
- EITHER decline to attend or prepare well; no in‑between.
- TAKE notes so you can speak coherently when it’s your turn.
- SPEAK confidently and, when appropriate, segue into your agenda.
I like that summary. Don’t you? Which makes me think the real advice should be to pay someone to summarize everything for you all the time. Then you don’t have to go to any meetings.