A few weeks ago, I was caught unprepared in a meeting. This one was fairly big, too. Our vice president called around 20 of us together to brainstorm solutions to a pretty big issue we'd encountered. In all honesty, the majority of folks in that room hold much more power than I do, so I didn't quite understand why I was there, nor did I believe my presence mattered.
But oh it did.
30 minutes in, I heard the VP say, "I'd like to hear about how your office and the issue at hand directly intersect." She was staring straight at me.
"Um, uh, wha--?" I was caught off guard and looked back and forth between her and my teammates. What did she mean? What intersection? Ugh, crap, I can't believe she's calling on me.
GIF courtesy of imgur
Thankfully, my boss's manager started answering, and I quickly recovered and jumped in to finish.
When you're caught unprepared, it can seem like you don't take your job seriously or care your co-workers. (Hint: That's not good.)
Here's the good news, though. You can avoid looking incompetent and disinterested by asking yourself these three questions before each meeting.
1. What's My Role?
Often, when an invite flies into my inbox, I have no idea why the organizer included me. If this happens to you, too, don't panic (or roll your eyes too hard).
There's a fairly simple solution--just ask. If you don't feel comfortable asking the organizer, feel free to consult with your supervisor or a teammate.
Maybe another department sees you as the expert on the subject they'll be talking about. Or, your boss assigned you as the point person for a brand new project, and this is the kick-off call. Or, it could be that your manager wants you there to learn more about something or gather updates for the team.
And, hey, if it turns out you don't actually need to be there--perhaps the organizer invited Abby Wolfe instead of Abby Byrd or she thought you manage data analytics but you don't--then you can politely (and satisfyingly) hit "Decline" and get that hour back in your day.
2. What Do I Need to Bring?
You know what sucks? When a meeting you attend is filled with a bunch of "Ah, yes, I'll get back to you on that."
Yes, Harry completed the quarterly report numbers, but they're in his office. Oh, yes, of course! Susan can definitely show you the flyer mock-ups, but she forgot to pick them up from the printer. She'll show you next week!
And then, you have to take more time out of your schedule to address things you could have figured out today. Fun, great, fab!
Don't be one of those people. Figure out what you need to show up with and write it down.
Let's say you're an event planner, and you're planning a summer picnic for a company. When you meet with your client for the first time, you'll want to take a list of questions. Does he have a location in mind? What's the expected guest count? Are there any food allergies? And you can't forget your portfolio. Pictures of barbecues you've thrown, price quotes, catering options--anything to help achieve his vision.
Don't need to bring anything? Cool. But don't just sit back and relax. Stay engaged and take the best darn notes you've ever seen.
3. What Do I Want to Get Out of It?
"Oh, darn. I completely forget to ask her about [Insert Thing You Really Need to Know]."
I can't even count the amount of times I've said this to myself. And I bet it's happened to you, too. (If it hasn't, tell me your secrets!)
It's easy to get distracted by the conversation, to let others lead the discussion and completely blank on what your intended takeaways are. It's OK--It happens. But it can be prevented, too.
In addition to jotting down materials you need to bring, you should also record what you need to accomplish. Are there any updates you need to communicate? Any questions you need answered? How about a problem you need advice on or constructive criticism you need to share?
And the one question that should be on every list? "OK, what's next? What are our action items?"
No one hates wasting time more than I do, which is exactly what you're doing when you try to improvise in a meeting. So do yourself (and others) a favor by answering these three questions before each one.