6 things everyone in tech should do before a meeting

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Staying mentally alert during meeting after meeting can sometimes feel more challenging than making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Before you have a breakdown, take heed of these expert tips from CEO of JibberJobber.com and Pluralsight author, Jason Alba.

1. Clarify the meeting's purpose and set time limits

As for those brainstorming sessions that tend to be typical in tech, the key component here is to know the purpose of the session and to make sure that timeframes are defined and respected. Here’s Jason: “I can't remember being in a brainstorming session that wasn't beneficial to someone.  The key is that you know what you are brainstorming (or, the purpose of the brainstorming session), and the boundaries and timeframes are defined.”

2. Recognize that informal meetings are still critical ones

Whether or not your team is having regularly scheduled meetings will likely depend on the style of your company’s culture and its leadership.  In tech, these sessions are often impromptu and can feel very informal. But a lack of formality doesn’t devalue the meeting. Collaboration is still essential in these last-minute gatherings and they should still be taken just as seriously as those that are more planned out. Here’s Jason: “…in my experience at a non-tech organization, in a non-tech role, meetings were more of a "here's what is going on" to help us all know what any issues were, training for consistency, etc.  When I started programming my entire day seemed to be made up of meeting with our team informally to talk about programming or design issues, collaborating with other team projects where it was important to know what else was going on the server, etc., as well as meeting with internal customers to first understand what the objectives of the project were, and then repeated communication (aka meetings) to make sure we were on the same page.  These were informal but critical meetings.”

3. Save the small talk

Deciding what should and shouldn’t be discussed in a meeting depends on several factors like the other people in attendance. But it’s always good to keep time constraints in mind. This means that only relevant topics should be on the table, and any chitchat should be saved for later. Here’s Jason: “Sometimes a meeting can get hijacked by a topic that is important, and needs to be discussed, but if you have an internal IT debate (for example, what language to use or switch to, or which language is better), and you have your internal customer there, you've probably wasted their time and perhaps lost a bit of credibility with the customer.  Make sure you know what the purpose of the meeting is, who is there, and get business taken care of, before you spend too much time on small talk or tangents.”

4. Take an active role if you’re struggling to stay alert

Getting back to that whole thing about staying mentally alert during a seemingly endless string of meetings, it can help to not only eliminate distractions, but to also take on a more active role. Here’s Jason: “I would suggest you go into the meeting and "be present," which means that you stay off of your phone, table or laptop and surf the web or check email.  You shouldn't do that anyway, but at this hour, when you are mentally tired and when you are thinking about going home, make sure you are present.” This brings us back to small talk and why sometimes it’s better to keep certain meetings – especially ones scheduled near the end of the day – short and to the point. Here’s Jason: “Keep meetings short, so you don't spend too much time on small talk, and then find that you didn't get around to the purpose of the meeting.  Also, consider a walking or standing meeting, or if you don't have control over that, try to sit in a way that you aren't going to be too comfortable (perhaps on the edge of your seat).  Sitting on the edge of your seat might bring more energy to you and others in the room.  Volunteer to be the note taker or time keeper, or stand at and write on the whiteboard. Taking a more active role will make sure that you are more engaged and mentally alert.”

5. Eliminate distractions during video conferences

When you’re handling your meetings from home or some other remote location, you may be more easily distracted by things like email or the million other open tabs in your browser calling your name. You can easily eliminate the urge by turning these things off. Here’s Jason: “They can be very effective... my main advice is to stay engaged in the meeting... turn off your browser or email, if they will be distracted.  Block out your schedule for these meetings just as you would a face-to-face meeting.  If you have a camera, stay engaged... even look into the camera every once in a while.

6. Have a routine

Keeping these tips in mind, it can help to create your own routine when preparing for meetings. Here’s Jason: “I always block out my calendar for my meetings. I minimize distractions.  If I'm in charge, I'll have spent from 10 minutes to over an hour to prepare.  Recently I had an audience with some people I wanted to meet with... this was more of a sales meeting than a technical specs meeting, although there was a fair amount of tech talk.  I wanted 60 minutes for the meeting, but that got changed to 30 minutes, and by the time we started (the other party had technology issues), we only had 20 minutes.  Because I had meticulously prepared my talking points, and knew my main objectives, and had my visuals refined, I was able to do what I needed to do in 1/3 of the time.  And if you've seen any of my courses, you know that I used follow-up as a tool to make sure I filled in any gaps and kept the conversation going.” Want more advice on how to have effective meetings? Check out Jason’s Management 101 course.

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Stacy Warden

Stacy Warden is a contributing editor of the Pluralsight blog and has worked in publishing since the dawn of the iPhone. Currently, Stacy deals in tech and education--a combination that she finds absolutely fascinating. You can find her on Twitter @sterrsi.