Proactively participating in meetings with fellow staff and supervisors may be something that keeps you anxious all week. Perhaps you dread meetings because you often see your teammates providing great ideas and discussions, yet when it is your turn to speak, you find it difficult to contribute any meaningful insights. As meetings continue, you might feel out of place and that you are the one dragging your team down. If you are struggling to facilitate or actively participate in meetings, you are not alone, as many students share the same struggle in school projects, student clubs and the workplace.
Coming to my Co-op position as a Student Researcher, a big part of my role was to learn as much as I could about existing programs, and to learn more, I scheduled several meetings with staff. These meetings often involved program managers and committees. As someone who was not comfortable with facilitating meetings or presentations, this was a challenge for me.
Here are some tips you could use to better prepare and contribute to your next meeting with your peers or supervisor.
1. Turn Off Distractions
While turning off phones is typically expected before starting meetings, remote positions and virtual meetings have posed new distractions for us, such as co-workers messaging you via your workspace channel, unstable internet connection or household members in the background. As someone who has faced all these problems during important meetings, take the extra steps to mark yourself as away on your workplace channels, testing your internet connection before meetings and informing your household members of your meeting.
2. Understand the Context of the Meeting
All productive meetings have a purpose and should accomplish something by the end of the meeting. If you will be leading a segment of the meeting, it is important to prepare a meeting agenda on what topics you want to discuss. This will provide you with a guideline of what documents to have ready on hand to be ready for discussion, updates or questions during the meeting.
3. Familiarize Yourself With the Meeting’s Attendees
Meetings might not always be the same set of co-workers and supervisors. For example, sometimes I have some new external staff wanting to join the meeting to provide me with feedback and resources. In such scenarios, it was important for me to prepare the necessary background information for all members to understand your content. Alternatively, if I knew my time was tight, a strategy would be to send documents ahead of time or in a follow-up email.
Not all employees attend every meeting, or perhaps a special external member will join the meeting. In such scenarios, it is important to include enough background on your work for them to understand. If your meeting time is on a tight schedule, ensure you provide a follow-up email on the meeting to ensure everyone understands the discussed topics and can still help with any action items.
4. Share Updates and Have Documents Prepared
Meetings with your coworkers and supervisors are a great opportunity to update your work and gain feedback from your team. For example, share updates on what you accomplished recently and what tasks you plan on prioritizing in the upcoming week. Having this conversation with your supervisor will help them check that you are on the right track.
Even if it's not clarified, your supervisor may call on the team to bring up any updates, concerns or questions. Be sure you have your most recent documents ready to share in case. This also opens up an opportunity for you to share an update with your supervisor on your progress and check if you are on the right track
5. Taking Notes
Writing out ideas and assigned deliverables during your meeting helps you keep track of the most important details. Recording meeting notes also may help you identify areas you do not understand, in which you can ask your supervisor for more clarification. This demonstrates to your supervisors that you can actively listen and you have a strong willingness to learn from the meetings.
6. Prepare Discussion Questions
I've found that it's better to have prepared more questions than you think you will get to in case the discussions during the meeting start to sway towards a specific concern. If there is a specific discussion question you are likely to bring up, create follow-up questions to get the most interesting feedback possible. Sometimes, you might be in a meeting with just your supervisor. In those cases, I recommend asking smart questions about your work that help you take solid steps to improve your quality of work. In the past, I've asked about aspects of an assigned task that I don't understand and have questions about. I've also used this valuable time with my supervisor to be clear on concerns that prevent me from being able to complete my task effectively.
Most importantly, I recommend clarifying the purpose and goal of your task, because what you're working on now could impact the tasks you are assigned a week, a month, or several months later.
7. Reflect on the Meeting Afterwards
It's helpful to reflect on the meeting to improve your own performance for the next meeting, which might just be a follow-up. When you think about what worked well and what needs more improvement, you can actually work towards concrete goals of how you want to improve your interpersonal communication skills. Here are some questions I ask myself after a meeting to better understand how I performed:
How do you feel about your meeting?
Was your meeting efficient? Did everyone contribute?
What influenced your performance?
What helped you prepare?
What can you do to prepare better next time?
At some point in your university career, you will likely be asked to attend meetings and actively participate in them. Using these tips I've explained, you will be on the right track to contribute in a meaningful way. Something I've learned is that a lot of young professionals feel out of place or struggle to facilitate or actively participate in meetings. But what's important to keep in mind is that no matter how junior you are to the rest of your colleagues, you still have valuable feedback and questions to contribute to meet meetings and meetings with your supervisor.