Do Meetings Help or Hurt Your Career?

Before I dive into how important meetings are to your career, let me begin with an aside: I asked 10 people to give me their opinions about meetings. Here are their responses:

  • Waste of time
  • I have too many
  • My parents told me if I don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all
  • Meetings are those things that get in the way of work
  • Awesome on paper, terrible in execution
  • Can I choose giving myself papercuts? Good, I want papercuts
  • For large meetings, you spend as much time trying to find a meeting time as having the meeting
  • I especially love meetings to prepare for meetings. Those are my favorite
  • Half the time I’m not even sure the purpose of the meeting
  • Meetings are a critical tool for teams to function appropriately and work towards a common goal

Ok, I made the last one up, turns out I have a bunch of sassy friends and I thought we needed something positive to round out the feedback. The point is that there are plenty of blogs written about how to run meetings better, how to make them shorter, how to have less meetings, and how to work as a team without meetings. I get it, people don’t like meetings and do not think they serve a purpose.

I’m not an expert in any of those subjects – other people have that covered. Type “meeting” into GovLoop and I’m sure those blogs will pop up. I’m here to talk about something a little more selfish: how you can use meetings to your advantage and advance your career. It boils down to a simple statement: for an average person meetings are the top professional networking opportunity, and most people don’t even realize it.

How many opportunities does a person get to interact with people outside their core work group?  Meetings provide a captive (although probably not excited) audience where reputations and impressions (both good and bad) can be made. When people ask: What do you think of Kevin? Most of their responses are going to be based off of meetings.

Do you want to hear people say “Kevin seems really sharp,” or “Kevin seems kind of lazy and disengaged?” When asking about other people for potential hiring and details, I’ve heard both. When I ask how they’ve worked and mainly interacted with them the answer is always the same; meetings and e-mails.

So how do you set yourself up for success? Here are some helpful hints of what to do and not to do:

DO: Be prepared. I know this is hard. You have 6 hours of meetings and 4 hours of work to fit into an 8 hour day, how can you possibly also have time to make sure you’re prepared for your meetings? For 99% of meetings, nobody expects you to read the 350 page report. What you can do is read the executive summary and any parts that relate to your area of work. Be ready to speak to those parts. And if your “part” is the entire 350 page report? Time to schedule a block of time to read it.

DO NOT: Speak just to get noticed. I actually have received this piece of advice from multiple people, but I don’t agree. If you cannot add value to the conversation, don’t say something to just ensure people realize you’re there. Most likely, they are going to realize you’re there for the wrong reason.

DO: Know your role in the meeting. Especially for people early in their career, a lot of meetings are learning experiences where nobody is expecting you to contribute. There are also times where you are a critical contributor or leader of the meeting. You should know going in what is expected of you and how you contribute to the meeting’s (hopeful) success.

DO NOT: Go into a meeting unprepared to speak. I know this sounds contradictory to the advice above, but even if you plan on just listening and learning, you never know when someone may ask for your opinion. Be prepared to contribute if called upon, and if someone asks you a question you didn’t prepare for, it is ok to admit it, write a note to yourself, and follow up with them after the meeting.

DO:  Be alert, be in the moment. We’ve covered it… meetings can suck. They can be boring. It is much easier to zone out and daydream, especially if you’re on a conference call. Don’t. IT’S A TRAP (Star Wars reference? Anyone?). Stay in the moment and stay alert. Others will notice. There is no worse feeling than zoning out and then someone asking you something and you have to admit you weren’t paying attention by asking them to repeat (or if you’re on the phone, say your phone broke up for a second…don’t act like you haven’t used that one before).

This list is by no means comprehensive and I’m constantly adding to it with new experiences. The most important thing isn’t the list itself, but transforming meetings from a chore to a growth opportunity.

So what advice do you have? Do you think meetings are helping or hurting your career? Or, is it just another chore?

Kevin Richman is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Corinne Stubbs

Great post, Kevin. I liked your five points about preparing for meetings, and I can definitely use the advice on pre-meeting prep. Sometimes, meetings can seem incredibly redundant, but I do think they serve a valuable purpose of keeping people on task. For me personally, I like checking in with other members of my team. Also, larger meetings for the entire office are wonderful for learning about the work going on in other departments and how it connects with your department. It makes you realize there is a greater purpose for even the smallest of tasks.

Laura Free

I’ve used meetings to build networks across the Agency and develop a reputation as thorough and on-the-ball, with sharp listening skills. Time before and after meetings can be key to developing the personal side of work relationships–especially if it’s a recurring meeting where people get to know each other over time, you can use the shuffle out of the meeting to engage others.

Timothy G. Johnson

My biggest complaint is we have meetings about meetings. What a waste of time.

I meet with my staff whenever we have something worthwhile to discuss or a project that needs attention. We all need time to get our work done and unnecessary meetings are just a time waster.