How to Be an Effective Participant in a Meeting and Not Just a Passenger
Improving participation in a meeting is a learned skill. Practice and observation train the mind and, in a short while, a manager interested in being a better participant, becomes one......Good participation is, fortunately, contagious, as is, unfortunately, poor participation. Set an example as a participant, and others will follow.
As a member of a committee or working party, or as participant in a one-off meeting, you will have an excellent opportunity to influence decision-making and to make your talents known and available to the organization. You can attend a meeting – or you can be a participant. Whether solving problems or pooling ideas, a meeting in which you are involved can be productive for you and the organization, depending on how you act, and what real contribution you make.
1. Understand why you have been asked to participate.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I been brought in simply to fill a gap?
- Am I representing a department or section or specialist group?
- Have I been brought in to provide expertise or competence in a particular area?
- Am I here as the Organizations' “bright young person” with ideas?
- Am I here as the voice of experience, the steadying influence?
When you can answer such questions, you can channel your efforts appropriately
2. Know the other participants
Find out about the other participants – their likes and dislikes, strong and weak points, the power brokers, the way they operate, and how they react to new ideas and proposals. Knowing this, you can adopt effective tactics for dealing with them.
3. Arrive Prepared
Prepare yourself by studying the agenda and working on all papers in advance. Focus on items for YOUR particular attention, and anticipate any needs the group will have for data you can bring. Prepare for your involvement by compiling handouts or charts, working up suggestions, or recommendations, and making notes from which to speak if required. You may choose to canvass the views of influential participants beforehand. The amount of preparation you do will determine how others view you – as a passenger or valued participant. Plan in advance to make at least one specific contribution.
4. Arrive early and use the time wisely
Arrive early and take the opportunity if necessary to introduce yourself to other participants. Use the waiting time profitably, perhaps learning their position on certain agenda items. If possible, get a seat close to the chairperson – you'll get more involved and you'll be noticed.
5. Talk up – get involved.
Don't hesitate to get into the act. A well-chosen question can often help to break the ice. Then you can enter into the discussion and speak freely. Research has shown that talkative participants usually contribute the most useful remarks, have the best ideas, and impress other members. The only drawback is that, in becoming influential, you can also run the risk of becoming unpopular, since productivity can be seen by some as a kind of control mechanism and therefore resented.
6. Make you presence felt
Make your points clearly, succinctly and positively. Remain silent when you have nothing to say. Listen, observe and save your arguments until you can make a really telling point. Resist the urge to dominate the discussion.
The chairperson (and others) will recognize and appreciate your value to the group when you build on the ideas of others, pose “what if?” questions, seek clarification of relevant issues, be supportive with constructive comments, and be open-minded, willing to compromise, and respectful of others' contributions.
7. Be an active listener.
Practice the skill of listening in meetings because it will lead to understanding and good questions often, too many people try to talk at once, and as a result there are too many interruptions. At other times, people are too busy thinking of what to say and fail to hear what others are saying. As well, animosity between participants often causes some not to listen or to prejudice what has been said. Whatever the reason, failing to listen actively can cause meetings to fail.
8. Be willing to learn
Go into meetings with the attitude of being prepared to learn from others. Effective participation in meetings does not always mean getting your own way. Rather, it means learning from others, accepting criticism, incorporating the ideas of others into your proposal to make it better.
9. Volunteer to wrap up the meeting.
Impress the chairperson, who is usually pleased to find someone willing to bring things together in a final summary, report or action plan.
10. Adhere to the rules of meeting etiquette
Consider the following:
- Avoid interrupting
- Refrain from distracting behavior, such as pencil-tapping
- Avoid side comments to your neighbor. If you have something to say, say it to the group.
- Always be pleasant, courtesy and tactful. If you must discredit another's proposal, expose its defects, not the person.
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