8 meeting commandants that we all need to follow

We all like to complain about meetings. Meetings are a waste of time, boring, inefficient, run too long, nothing gets accomplished, etc., etc., etc. Complaining is easy, but never makes things better.

The solution to bad meetings? How about a day of meeting training? How about if we improve our meeting process? Maybe it’s the leader’s fault, and they need to learn how to run better meetings. Their agendas are too long, or they don’t know how to facilitate a discussion. Maybe it’s the uncomfortable chairs or the cramped, smelly dark room, or the bagels are stale.

While any or all of those reasons can result in a bad meetings perhaps the one thing we have the most control over fixing is our own meeting behavior.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all did an honest self-assessment of our meeting behaviors and upped our own game, the time we spend in meetings might get better.

Here are eight things that anyone can do or stop doing to make meetings a little more tolerable, and maybe even more productive!

1. Show up on time. Showing up on time is probably the easiest thing to take responsibility for and fix, yet it has remained on the list of annoying meeting behaviors since the dawn of time, when cavemen would go hungry because their tribe mates arrived late for the woolly mammoth hunt. I sometimes wonder if people think they look more important when they arrive late? It’s as if their time is more important than anyone else’s, or they are busier than everyone else.

In fact, what it really does is delay the start of the meeting, waste the time of others in getting them caught up, makes them look stupid when they try to contribute after missing important information up front, and shows a lack of respect for the meeting leader and everyone else. If you are arriving late for meetings more often than not, then do yourself and everyone else a favor and make a resolution to leave 10 minutes earlier for every meeting until you curb the bad habit.

2. Keep your status updates brief, to the point, and upbeat. Status updates are a regular agenda item for most meetings. Don’t be “that guy” who consistently takes way more time than everyone else and drones and whines on and on about every little detail of their work. Prior to the meeting, jot down a few items to share that would be of interest to everyone in attendance. Keep it to two or three minutes, tops. Offer to go first -- that way, you set the example and pace for everyone else. Put some enthusiasm in your updates, even a little humor, and it will raise the energy level and lighten the mood.

3. Pay attention to your body language. Next time you go to a meeting, try observing the body language of everyone around the room. Are they paying attention, making eye contact, leaning forward, and taking notes? Or are they slumped in their chair, rolling their eyes, checking their e-mails or daydreaming? Great meetings are all about the collective energy level of every single person in the room. Your appearance can add energy or can suck the life out of the room. Others will feed off you, either in a positive or negative way.

4. Stop with the side comments. When someone else is talking or presenting, seeing someone make a side comment to their neighbor can be incredibly distracting and annoying. You wonder what they are saying and usually assume the worst. If you have something important to say, then wait for the appropriate time and say it to everyone. The same goes for texting -- it’s childish and rude.

5. No hand grenades. A meeting hand grenade is when someone has to leave the meeting early, or the meeting is just about to end, and they toss an incredibly complex issue on the table or say something controversial or rude without leaving time for anyone to respond. If you’re going to bring someone like that up, consult with the meeting leader ahead of time and ask to include it on the agenda with ample time to address it.

6. Add value. If you are invited to a meeting, then you are not only there to soak up everyone else’s contributions -- you are expected to add value. Set a goal to make at least one constructive contribution to every meeting. Suggest a solution to a problem, offer to take an action item, support one of your co-worker’s ideas or ask an intelligent question.

7. Come prepared and follow up on your commitments. This one is my personal pet peeve. When we all leave a meeting with action items, there is an expectation that everyone comes to the next meeting with completed homework assignments. When the same person either consistently “forgets” their assignment, makes lame excuses, or tries to BS through it, I want to reach across the table and slap them. Don’t make your responsible co-workers want to slap you -- keep your commitments.

8. Bring food. When all else fails, bring yummy snacks to your meetings. Your co-workers will thank you and maybe even cut you some slack for occasionally violating any of the above commandments. Don’t be that little piggy who devours everyone else’s goodies but never contributes anything.

If everyone followed all of these commandments, our time spent in meetings way less painful and we might even get some real work done. Then we’d have to find something else to complain about, like performance reviews.

Dan McCarthy is the director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire and runs the Management & Leadership channel of About.com. He writes the award-winning leadership development blog Great Leadership and is consistently ranked as one of the top digital influencers in leadership and talent management. He’s a regular contributor to SmartBrief and a member of the SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board. E-mail McCarthy.

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