What 6 Elementary School Rules Can Teach Us About Meetings
Meetings. Even the mere word can elicit shudders and a wish to hide under the desk. Meetings have gained a bit of a bad reputation because so many of them lack preparation or prove to be an unproductive use of time.
What if you had some tricks in your back pocket to help you make meetings more positive and productive for all involved?
As it turns out, the rules that we all learned in elementary school still hold true in the “real world”—and revisiting them as professionals can help us gain a fresh perspective.
Use the following tried-and-true classroom rules to turn a meeting into an A+ experience:
1. Do your homework.
Homework doesn’t have to be a dirty word; in fact, preparing ahead of time can help you engage and participate more fully in the meeting. You’ve likely already answered some of the surface questions you might have had if you hadn’t prepared, so you’ll be better equipped to focus on deeper, more insightful questions and comments that will move the conversation forward.
What kind of homework are we talking about, anyway? If you’re the meeting organizer, preparing a detailed agenda is key. Distribute the agenda to attendees beforehand, and give them ample time to review so they can prepare their own “homework” to bring to the meeting. By being prepared, you’re helping others to be more prepared, too—a win-win that will result in a more productive and interesting use of time for all.
If you’re not the organizer, use the provided agenda to pre-brainstorm and write down key ideas, questions, concerns, and even solutions ahead of time. If you don’t receive an agenda beforehand, email or ask the organizer to provide one so you can ensure that you’re able to bring valuable ideas to the table.
2. Bring enough for the entire class.
Let’s be clear: bringing snacks to a meeting is always appreciated (although the fish lunch someone heated up and brought into the conference room definitely isn’t), but we’re talking more about sharing materials and ideas. For instance, if you find an interesting article related to the topic, send a link before the meeting so everyone has time to read it, or bring relevant materials to the meeting as handouts for everyone to review and discuss. Enriching your own understanding and context of the issues at hand is great, but sharing that information with your colleagues is even better, and helps to create richer conversations and better decision-making.
3. Don’t pass notes.
Having side conversations or going off on meandering, off-topic tangents during a meeting is disrespectful to others who are giving the meeting their full attention, and it’s also super distracting. Continually getting off track or whispering to a coworker can give your colleagues the impression that you don’t see their time as being valuable, and it could lead to you being left out of future meetings or projects. Save off-topic questions (or “Bachelorette” recaps) for more appropriate settings—such as over lunch with colleagues or one-on-one conversations.
4. Be kind, polite, and courteous.
Yep, that whole “treat others the way you want to be treated” doesn’t end once you graduate from recess to water-cooler breaks. Prop others up: even if an idea doesn’t seem feasible, or you don’t agree with something that was said, practice the “Yes, and…” rule. Be cognizant of letting others speak, and offer opinions and ideas, too. Remember that meetings aren’t just about you, the organizer, or any particular person attending—each person has a key role (which is why they were invited in the first place). Effective meetings are often about finding ways to be a valuable contributor and help move a project forward, while still giving your coworkers time to shine and share their unique perspectives.
5. Raise your hand.
A good rule of thumb in a meeting is to be a better listener rather than a talker. Wait your turn to speak and be selective with your contributions: quality trumps quantity when it comes to speaking during a meeting. Make your best ideas heard by only chiming in when you truly have something valuable to add to the conversation. Have a major concern about a product launch? A new project your team is working on that dovetails perfectly with the project being discussed? A breakthrough idea when the meeting seems to come to a dead end? Comic relief to lighten the mood? All are wise uses of “raising your hand.” Use your best judgment, and remember: your voice is a powerful tool—when you use it thoughtfully.
6. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s.
Consider following up the meeting with a recap. Even as a participant who didn’t organize the meeting, it’s always a good idea to type out a post-meeting recap of key points, remaining questions, and action items. Not only is it helpful for you, but if the meeting organizer doesn’t plan to send one, it can be useful as a strategic “next steps” document (not to mention a relief to others for taking work off their plates).
Sometimes, we overcomplicate things, including meetings. These classic rules of our childhood, though simple at first glance, can teach us how to be better contributors and better coworkers—inside and outside of the meeting room.
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