Those of us in the work world are consumed by meetings. It’s a huge part of getting things done, or NOT getting them done. Sure, your classes have “meetings” but this is a whole other beast. Corporate meetings fall into two categories, much like class sizes.
There are big meetings, when a large group shows up to be lectured at by someone at the front of the room.
The speakers have info they think is vital to convey. By stopping all company work for their Town Hall, All Hands, or monthly webcast, they are really serious. It costs a lot of money to have everyone stop working at the same time. Pay attention. Just as a giant introductory class might not be the most interesting part of a given academic subject, it’s foundational for everything that will come later. You still need to listen and make sure you’re getting the material down. You’re in no position to guess what’s relevant and what’s not. It’s also a great chance to get a feel for the larger culture in any new job (or with any new client or vendor). How do the folks on stage dress? What do they look like? I’d take it to heart if I only saw really old white guys on the stage or you’re in marketing but the only people ever on stage are the folks from finance and operations. There’s a subtext there. Even if the spoken content isn’t all that interesting, pay attention to everything else. I admit some meetings are boring, and the content may be worthless–usually the ones dictated by legal, but those can be a great chance to meet other people in the company. Sit next to new people, introduce yourself, go with a goal to introduce yourself to certain people you think it would be great to take to coffee.
There are small meetings, much like the seminars you’ve had in college.
These are to discuss something and should lead to a clear set of action items for a specific set of people in the room. Sometimes they have someone taking notes. (Don’t volunteer for this office housework if you are invited to a meeting, but don’t be surprised if it’s your role early on. Volunteering to attend a higher-level meeting by suggesting you come to take notes–if you are good at taking notes–can be a fantastic learning opportunity.) First off, be on time. Listen, but also talk when you’ve got something to contribute. If you have a question, probably someone else does, too. Of course, there are meetings where your boss might take you just to observe, so in that case, don’t talk in the meeting, but definitely debrief with your boss (in private). A good meeting has an agenda and someone running it. (Whoever asked for the meeting.) A good one will end on time. Conference calls also count as meetings. If it doesn’t end on time, and is making you late for another meeting, politely let everyone know you have to go. (If you go into a meeting knowing your time is tight, sit near the exit, and, let everyone know at the start that you have a hard stop at 4 p.m.) Don’t interrupt the meeting to leave. If you need to leave briefly for the restroom, then do so, but do so quietly. Ideally leave your stuff there, so it’s clear you’ll be back. Don’t even look at your phone while in the meeting. Turn it off and put it away. Even taking notes on an electronic device is risky–people can’t tell what you are doing, typing makes noise, and you will be focused on the screen, getting no subtext at all.
A great way to get practice running meetings is to start with your advisor. Ask for a meeting, come in with an agenda (not a secret agenda–a bullet-pointed one with your 1-3 goals for the meeting). It doesn’t need to be written, but if you’re going to refer to notes, provide copies. Make sure they know the agenda ahead of time, so they have any information or people that might also be required. Move on to group meetings. Take charge of something on campus whether it’s a fundraiser, a dinner, or a study group. You need to start figuring out how to control rambling TMI speeches and the one lonely loudmouth who just likes to hear themselves speak. In order to not be that person, try to limit your speaking time to your percentage of the table. If you have 10 people at the meeting, talk 10% of the time. Even if you are running a meeting, the best leaders want discussion. Go around the table and ask each relevant person for their opinion on the issue. (Unless the meeting is everyone reporting back–in that case only the person who had the action item should speak to that issue.) Don’t let side discussions, topical OR between neighbors, derail the meeting (nicely suggest they go offline at another time and report back). If you have weak points in your performance, attend other meetings and watch the leaders for style when you don’t need to be focused on content. Start your meetings saying you want to end on time and there’s lots to cover…you can keep coming back to that theme, nicely cutting of the long-winded by saying, “That’s a really interesting point, but I want to be mindful of the schedule, so let’s move on to the next thing on the agenda.” Summarize the meeting at the end with the action items agreed on and the one person responsible for each item. Even if there’s a team lining up sponsors for the animal shelter pet bath fundraiser, one person needs to be sure that team is on track.
If you’re really stumped for feedback on your skills, see if the adviser for your campus group, someone from career services, or from the philanthropy you’re supporting can attend and give you feedback afterwards. (Ideally, you want to know they are good at meetings before asking.) Ask around to find out who is really good at running meetings in faculty and administrative meetings–it could turn out it’s the executive chef for all the campus dining halls. If they don’t seem to be giving you good feedback, tell them where you felt you didn’t get the result you wanted–maybe they saw other ways you could have reached your goal. Most people work on campus in part because they actually like helping students. Get used to feeling a little awkward in an effort to make a connection. That’s a whole other skill that’s worth having. Most people will be flattered to be asked and, if they can’t help you, they’ll bump you to someone else who will.