Meeting and Presentation Tips Part 2: The Meeting
In my previous article I detailed some of the steps I take when preparing for a meeting. This time I’d like to talk about the meeting itself.
I’ll be covering two perspectives here — both the attendee and the meeting host or organiser, this meeting also crosses lines between meetings (idea-generating, discussions, planning) and presentations but I feel there’s a lot of overlap.
1) Pre-Meeting Discussion
This applies mainly to important meetings with groups of participants.
Don’t sigh quite yet! I agree there’s such a thing as too many meetings. However anyone who has been in a meeting hosted by a group can clearly tell when the group haven’t aligned beforehand; from talking over one-another (even with best intentions) to giving conflicting perspectives and surprise hand-overs to unprepared colleagues. This is avoidable.
This discussion (shall we just call it a meeting?) doesn’t need to take long, it can be wrapped in less than 10 minutes and the benefits will be worth it — I can say with certainty that the important meetings where I’ve met with the group beforehand have a noticeably better outcome.
Here’s a few things to ask:
- Who will “drive”, who will talk about ___?
- Who will take notes?
- Who will answer questions about ___?
- Remind me of our decision for ___?
- If we start to run out of time, let’s skip ___.
As I mentioned last time, if you’re running a meeting or presentation as a group, do a test-run, with the slides in presentation mode.
2) Arrive early
Remote working pro-tip: Enter the virtual meeting early, mute your mic and disable your camera, you’re set to go.
If I’m running a meeting I arrive 10 minutes early, 5 minutes early if I’m an attendee.
The time of the meeting on the schedule is the time the meeting will begin, not the time to make your way to the meeting or to grab a coffee. I can remember experiences where people would show up to a meeting 10–15 minutes late. Without a good reason this is disrespectful to the time of both the organisers and the other attendees. As a rule at Mighty Bear we start the meeting shortly after the proposed meeting time, if you’re late you’re late.
If you’re going to be unavoidably late to a meeting give people a heads up with as much notice as possible.
Why arrive early?
Consider the points below — even if you’re not the organiser of a meeting these are things you could help with:
- Someone else could already be using the meeting room.
- There could be a problem with the equipment, even if you’ve already checked.
- The room could be unprepared: Missing chairs, whiteboard pens missing.
- Speakers could be disconnected (happens more than you’d think!).
- Presenter-screen could be missing (hope you printed those notes!)
I make sure I have checked-through any presentation on the computer in the meeting room beforehand, you never know if there are updates being installed, missing fonts, missing monitor/TV/keyboard — you don’t want to lose the first 15 minutes of your meeting trying to fix the problem.
3) Set the Ground Rules
As an organiser you will have already sent a meeting agenda beforehand, now’s the time to reiterate that and define the direction the meeting will go; for example if you’re going to present something for review are you okay with questions during the presentation or afterwards?
4) Take your time
Whether you’re presenting, driving an idea-generating session or doing a review, you’ve allocated the time you believe would make sense for this meeting. Make the most of it, don’t skip over points which could be worth discussing if there’s time to spare— you have the right people in the room right now.
Now is when the checklist/meeting flow notes you made will come in handy to guide you.
When you’re driving a meeting remember that although the attendees have read the materials beforehand, they won’t be as familiar with the subject as you. Provide additional context if needed.
In some ways remote working and virtual meetings have made this part more easy thanks to screen-sharing. It is helpful to have the document open right there for people to follow and discuss, the only thing missing is sometimes the ability to make quick sketches to describe concepts, although the the different meeting applications are being regularly updated.
5) …But don’t waste people’s time
If you’re the one who organised this meeting and you haven’t had a chance to prepare for the meeting/presentation beforehand, it is probably worth delaying until later in the day. Distractions or surprise tasks can happen and people will understand, just let them know in advance!
Trying to “wing it” through an unprepared meeting doesn’t always work out well, I’m sure we’ve all tried!
Meetings can go off topic at times, and they could be to discuss perfectly valid points — as a host or attendee you can bring the meeting back on-track and take note to follow up the the point raised later. This can be especially true in Design meetings where it is really interesting to go into depth and talk things through, but you don’t want to lose the core focus of the meeting.
When running Design meetings I would specifically allow us a limited amount of time to tackle a problem, for example a specific region in the level which needs to be solved. If the time expires and we’re getting no-where it’s something to think about out of the meeting — then we can move on to the rest of the level and don’t get stuck, plus a solution to an earlier problem may present itself later in the meeting.
Another tip I’ve learned is that at least having an idea or rough-decision in place will give you something to critique afterwards, so if possible don’t leave it blank.
6) End with a Summary
Wrap the meeting up at the end — have you achieved your goals? What are the points you will tackle outside of the meeting? Who will be working on what? Was anything left unclear? Make sure you’re in alignment.
Depending on the situation I have found it useful to send a follow up communication too, as another chance for people to raise issues afterwards if necessary. Depending on your company this may be in the form of an email, this could be the starting point for a continued discussion thread… Building up to another meeting!
Bonus Tips for Presenters
Stand up and be confident
Don’t hide behind a screen. Separating yourself from the group goes a long way towards shifting your mindset to meeting mode, plus you’ll be a lot more convincing.
Body language is important, especially if you’re presenting to external parties and in-person. If there’s space to do-so, stand up.
Face the attendees
I’ve experienced presentations before where the presenter spent 90% of the presentation facing the screen/projector at the back of the room. This isn’t a great look, if you’re unprepared it is a trap you may fall into without realising.
While working remotely you can still achieve this by looking towards the camera on your computer so that people aren’t looking at the side of your face.
Repeat the question
Before you answer someone’s question it can be useful to check that you’ve understood it properly.
If you’re running an idea-generating meeting this shouldn’t be too difficult, but if you’re presenting this is much easier said than done. If you haven’t asked anyone beforehand to take notes for you, it’s not too late.
If you have been working on a whiteboard during the meeting don’t forget to capture a photo afterwards, you don’t want to return the next day only to find the board has been cleaned!
In my experience working from home it has actually been more difficult than usual to balance note-taking and presenting, but it is still worth making a point of keeping up this practise.
Bonus Tips for Attendees
Read any materials ahead of time!
As I mentioned in the previous article. If I’m the organiser I will sometimes call-out the especially-important document or sections in the invite so that they get particular attention, if the document is work-in-progress I’ll even highlight parts.
Bring a notepad
Arriving prepared is encouraging and respectful to the presenter and shows that you’re taking things seriously.
Should you be here?
If you think you’re not really useful in this meeting, check with the organiser ahead of time — they could have a specific reason for including you.
Don’t be shy!
Don’t be afraid to ask the question on your mind, or make the suggestion you’ve been thinking of — it’ll be extra annoying if someone else says it!
Using your phone or tapping your pens can be distracting for the person doing the presenting or trying to drive the meeting, consider the situation from their perspective and act accordingly.
When attending a remote meeting, keep your attention to the topic of the meeting, that article you were reading through can wait for later (unless it’s this one, maybe).
Assist the Presenter
If the presenter is clearly busy with presenting or talking through a subject in detail, offer to help and pick up whiteboard marker (or log in to the meeting room’s computer if there is one). One important thing to note here is not to hijack the meeting, but to help an already-busy presenter — they may be able to take-over for you after a few minutes.
Working from home: make use of the tools
Different remote meeting applications have different advantages and disadvantages, but there are a few different rules to keep in mind regardless:
- Mute yourself when you’re not talking
- Minimise background noise
- Enable your camera whenever possible, it shows you’re actively participating (and encourages others to do-so).
- Personally I’m quite self-conscious and disable my camera if I’m about to drink, eat or sneeze because all 3 felt strangely awkward to stream!
Don’t be one of the people who brings a notepad which remains unused throughout the meeting! If this meeting involves work of yours, or work related to you, or information relevant to you… Take note!
You never know when you’ll need to refer back to a seemingly unimportant point later, take good notes which you’ll understand next week, or 3 weeks from now!
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! I hope at least a few of these personal rules and tips are useful to you in your future meetings. Good luck!