Early Career Advice: Look like a pro in your meetings!

Early Career Advice: Look like a pro in your meetings!
Photo by Bingnan Li / Unsplash

Starting in a new role at a large company is exciting but stressful, and right after getting settled in you might find yourself looking for ways to stand out from your peers to help further develop your career. Though nothing stands out like great work, there are several smaller actions you can take to impress your higher-ups and progress your career. These more minor actions include things like responsiveness to emails or internal communication, arriving on time to meetings, presenting clearly at team demos, and more. There are tons of articles out there outlining these general principles, but in this post, we’ll look at an action that might not be so obvious: coming prepared to every meeting you attend with an agenda. Concretely, let’s look at how an agenda by your side would reflect well on your ability to lead projects and take responsibility for your work.

Who needs an agenda anyway?

If your job consists largely of ‘knowledge work’ then you’ll likely find yourself attending a lot of meetings. Meetings are a great way to align team members to a common goal and are a breeding ground for innovation and new ideas, but if run incorrectly, they can feel like a waste of time that subtracts from your ability to get important work done. There is a never-ending discussion about how many meetings, how often, and how long each one should be, but like it or not meetings are critical so getting the most out of each one is an important goal.

There are lots of best practices out there for running effective meetings, but at the core of every professional guide, you’ll find the need for a solid agenda. This list of items that the meeting needs to address can range from a few notes scribbled on a sheet of paper to a detailed checklist complete with a time limit for each point, all the documents everyone would need to participate in the discussion, and a description of the goal of the conversation for that point.

Though we have other resources on how to craft the right agenda for the right type of meeting, as mentioned above, let’s look at a strategy that only takes a minute or two of your time before every meeting but pays dividends down the line.

The Efficient Agenda

Every meeting, no matter how short or open-ended, has at least one item that needs to be discussed. For this meeting to go smoothly, everyone in attendance should have roughly the same idea of what the discussion is going to be about. If five different people come to the same meeting with five different ideas about the meeting’s purpose, you’ll get a lot of discussion but not on the topics that everyone is prepared to talk about. These unorganized meetings can end up wasting a lot of your team members’ time, especially if follow-up meetings are needed when the points brought up end up being more involved than previously thought.

So how do you make sure that everyone is on the same page before diving into a meeting? You set up an agenda that everyone agrees on. Let’s take a look at what goes into such an agenda.

Step 1: Identify the type of meeting

The kind of agenda you write should be based on the kind of meeting you will be attending. For example, if you are attending a daily standup, you don’t need to include details about each agenda item: just a simple list of points to discuss will do. However, if you are attending a large product meeting with a few different teams, adding some detail to each agenda item (such as any relevant documents or points of discussion) is a must-have. We have some additional sources on common types of meetings here.

Step 2: Jot down a draft agenda

Now that you have the meeting’s context in mind, grab a piece of paper or open up the word processor of your choice to write your agenda. In roughly 30 seconds to a minute, itemize what you think needs to occur during the meeting. Don’t worry if this list isn’t comprehensive or if you aren’t sure you caught everything, this is just your starting point.

Step 3: Share with your teammates

This last step is what gets everyone aligned and ensures that your meetings go smoothly and productively each time. Though it may seem daunting to share your work with your coworkers, it is important that everyone sees the agenda at least once before the actual meeting and it is a great way to show that you are taking initiative in keeping your team on track.

Pro Tip: a natural place to share the agenda with your team is either through the calendar invite everyone receives or through company communication. However you decide to share your agenda, try and stay consistent so that your coworkers always know where to go to find the agenda should they need it.

Sharing your draft agenda early on is a great way to get feedback while also easing the need for the items you jotted down to be specific and finalized. If you use software that updates in real-time for taking your agenda items, such as Google Docs, or Knowtworthy, you can let your team members know that they should feel free to add any items that they want to the list. Then, on the day of the meeting, simply check up on the list, add any items that may have become relevant since you first shared your agenda, and that’s it! You can now arrive at the meeting confident that your team is on track.

By consistently creating and curating agendas for your team, you can substantially boost your visibility between your peers and higher-ups and show that you are on top of your work and can take initiative to help improve your project. The Essential Agenda method only takes a minute or two per meeting and will reflect well on you. You can also reap the productivity rewards of maintaining consistent agendas. Now, if you need to look back on previous meetings and check when you discussed a certain element, you can do so with ease. Bonus points for keeping your agendas in an easily searchable place!

Next Steps

Creating an agenda for every meeting is a great place to start, but as I mentioned earlier, a lot goes into running consistently great meetings. On top of the agenda you may also want to include the following items:

  • purpose: the reason that the meeting is being held
  • description: where and when the meeting was held along with who was in attendance
  • action items: the attributed task list based on the decisions that come out of every meeting
  • minutes: the notes synthesizing the discussion you had during the meeting
  • transcripts: what was said during the meeting (if you are recording for later)

Each of these items deserves a post in and of themselves, but if you want to improve the quality of your team’s documentation and the productivity of your meetings, I recommend you stay tuned or subscribe for further posts where we’ll cover all of these items and more!