As an intern in college, I found myself sitting around a conference table with executives and board members ironing out the logistics for an city-wide event we were planning, with a mix of big names and big ballers on the guest list. Stumped during their conquest to find the perfect prose for a piece of marketing material, my boss turned to me as a last resort: "Michael, do you have any ideas?" Do I? Of course! Dying on the inside, but composed on the outside, I offered a suggestion that would eventually morph into the tagline for the event. The executive team was pleasantly surprised, my boss smiled from ear to ear and board members made it their business to show their appreciation before leaving the office.
It goes without saying: I'm appreciative of the opportunity to discern the value of meetings early in my career, because as I've continued to evolve both in my nine-to-five and with ventures like The Stylish Standout, my calendar is perpetually packed with team gatherings, client touch-bases and business lunches. Sure, they can be tedious, but they can also be the catalyst to connections, credibility and a boost of confidence to propel you to the next level.
Most meetings tend to take on a personality of their own, but there are a few guiding principles for you to carry through your career to ensure you're prepared in case you're called upon. Bookmark this handy-dandy cheat sheet and watch your star rise within the office.
For starters, schedule your day around the meeting, and not vice versa. Before leaving the office each evening (and prior to heading to the watercooler to discuss the latest episode of Scandal in the morning), check your calendar. Make sure meeting invites haven't slipped through Outlook's crack (that sounds really gross, but whatever) and that you've reviewed any pertinent materials and printed the applicable reports, agendas or reference docs. Of equal importance: Modify your to-do list to ensure deadlines don't conflict, and lunches with coworkers or errands that would take you miles away from the office are appropriately scheduled for another day. There's nothing more catastrophic than being caught up in traffic or finding yourself victim to a server in the weeds, making what's usually a 30-minute sit-down, an hour-plus mishap.
Now that you've scheduled accordingly, it'd be wise to allow ample time for preparation. Those reports that I mentioned in the paragraph above? Stay late to finish (and proofread!) them. The proposals your boss is expecting feedback from you on? Move your arrival time up 20 minutes to ensure you've read all 26 pages. Whatever it takes to prove that you're in readiness, do it. Speaking of arrival times, get to the conference room on time early. Some of the most worthwhile contacts you'll make in your career will be during small talk with the senior vice president, for example, of a business unit you've never heard of. Meetings are never just meetings. Use them to your advantage by showing up ready to network and build valuable bridges.
Next, you should know your role. Based on the type of meeting, you can determine if you're expected to observe, offer suggestions or receive an assignment for the next stage of a project. Tailor yourself accordingly. If your boss forwarded you an invite to her weekly leadership meeting because she thinks the exposure would be good for you, be gracious, follow the steps outlined above, and keep a low profile. Soak the experience in, add the key players to your rolodex and, again, be gracious that Boss Lady offered you an invitation. You're probably doing something right--don't fuck it up by being Blabbermouth Blair. Conversely, if you're expected to have ideas, don't come empty handed. Even if you think your opinions are shitty, they may be the springboard to some that are awesome, but just need a little preening.
If you've done these things so far, then you're pretty awesome. But true Stylish Standouts always go beyond the call of duty, so if you want to earn some brownie points (or actual brownies, if you have a boss like mine who loves bringing baked goodies), be the unsung hero that preserves the meeting's structure and order? Is Nancy the Nemesis going off on one of her trademark tangents? Pull everyone back on task with, "So, Melanie, do you think Nancy's idea will help convey how important our client's investment is to this initiative?" Before you know it, Nancy will be on hush mode and Melanie will be grateful that you refocused the conversation.
And let's say Nancy had to leave early to pick her son up from the school because Little Larry's running a fever. Take advantage of her disadvantage by offering to assume the duties of the absent. Take notes and send post-meeting recaps or show your technical chops by fixing the dialer so others can conference in. You'll be a hero; everyone will love you.
Lastly, be the one to ask the questions everyone else is afraid to. If you know that, for example, the mentorship program in development is flawed, probe with thoughtful questions ("Don't you think it would be better to reschedule these sessions for Thursday morning instead of Friday afternoon to ensure optimal attendance?") Everyone will see what you already know without you coming off as a Nancy Number Two.