OPINION: HARVEY MACKAY: Advance your career in every meeting

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I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve called someone and been told they’re in a meeting. I often wonder if they are in a meeting to see if they should have a meeting.

According to the MeetingKing website, “In the United States alone we ‘enjoy’ 11 million formal business meetings each day, and we waste $37 billion in unnecessary meetings every year.” The site also offered up these statistics:

• 37 percent of employee time is spent in meetings

• managers attend more than 60 meetings per month

• 39 percent of meeting participants admitted to dozing off during a meeting

• over 70 percent brought other work to meetings

• an estimated 25 to 50 percent of meeting time is wasted

The researchers found that the more meetings employees attended, the more exhausted they felt and the higher they perceived their workload to be.

Meetings are a fact of life for every employee. Instead of just enduring them, learn to use meetings to your advantage. Meetings can actually be very productive if you manage them effectively. I suspect the main reason people dread meetings is they are not well-planned with specific goals anticipated.

With that in mind, whoever calls the meeting must first decide what needs to be accomplished. The Monday morning sales meeting? The Friday weekly wrap-up? Even if those are typically on the schedule, it’s still necessary to define the purpose of the meeting in one or two sentences. That way people know why they’re present, what needs to be done and how to know if the meeting is successful.

Here is what I do:

Set an agenda. List the issues to discuss, review or decide. Your agenda should include firm starting and ending times, as well as estimates of time for each item under discussion. Time limits encourage people to be better prepared to discuss the subject at hand. They also demonstrate a respect for attendees’ other commitments.

Start on time. Don’t wait for latecomers. If someone is late, don’t go back and review what has been covered. Show that you value the time of the people who showed up promptly. In the same vein, end the meeting as soon as you have achieved what you set out to do.

Appoint a “referee.” The referee’s job is to keep the discussion on track and interrupt whenever the talk strays. New topics that arise should either be tabled until later or scheduled for their own meetings.

Keep and send minutes. Someone other than the meeting organizer should take notes on the meeting. These minutes should record who attended, what was discussed, any agreements that were reached and all time and action items that were assigned — and who is responsible for them. That ensures that those who attended all have the same information. Minutes can be as simple as bullet points, assignments and timelines. Distribute minutes within 24 hours.

Those are the meeting planner’s duties. Those who attend have some responsibilities too. Instead of whining about yet another meeting biting into your day, approach it with an attitude that this is an opportunity to shine.

Be prepared. Study the agenda or talk to the meeting leader to find out what will be covered. Spend time getting up to speed so you can anticipate where the discussion will lead, and get some ideas of your own ready to present.

Keep things simple. Don’t try to impress people with your vocabulary, or bore people to tears with long-winded sentences. Make your points quickly and succinctly, backing them up with evidence as necessary. Everyone will appreciate your efforts to keep the meeting moving forward.

Ask questions. Look for opportunities to ask pertinent questions that demonstrate your expertise: “Have you considered this approach?” Don’t overdo it, though. You don’t want to be seen as a pest who has to talk to be noticed.

Collaborate. Don’t obsess about your own ideas. Listen to what other people have to say and build on their thoughts. Acknowledge that you’re leapfrogging off someone else’s contribution so no one thinks you’re trying to hog the spotlight or steal the credit. If the meeting time doesn’t allow for serious brainstorming, ask if another session might be scheduled.

Volunteer. Be willing to implement the ideas and solutions that come out of the meeting, even if they’re not your own. You’ll get a reputation as someone people can depend on to get things done.

Mackay’s Moral: Don’t waste your time in meetings — make it matter!

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com.

, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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