Years ago, I attended an out-of-state business review meeting with a strategic alliance partner. Because the relationship was of critical importance to our company, a large contingent of us made the cross-country trip to the partner’s site, investing valuable time and money in our visit. As we crowded into the conference room to exchange quarterly results and strategize new goals, my counterpart and I presented data and recommendations to the extended team.
While layers of hierarchy sat in that meeting, only a handful of people asked substantive questions and provided meaningful input. The few of us who were engaged in the discussion sat surrounded by an audience of people who presumably could have spent the day focused on higher value activity.
Shortly thereafter, our senior vice president, a participant in the meeting, reprimanded the members of our team who did not contribute, charging them with not adding value to the discussion. If we were going to spend time and money to travel to business meetings, we needed to justify our expenses by making a meaningful contribution. Otherwise, we should remain in the office.
This experience cemented in me the critical importance of adding value in every business meeting. It’s easy to assume that you can hide in a roomful of people. Why would anyone notice that you didn’t engage? But you never know who is watching.
Even if you don’t get called out for not adding value, blending into the background is a missed opportunity. If you want to build relationships, demonstrate leadership and expand your influence, you need to have a voice in these discussions. Asking an insightful question or sharing an observation can increase your visibility and perceived value.
Here are three steps to add value to your meetings:
1. Understand your purpose.
These days, it feels like there are meetings about meetings about meetings. It can be easy to develop meeting fatigue and check out. But, presumably, you’ve been invited to the meeting for a reason. What is that reason? What do others expect you can offer to the discussion?
Before attending the meeting, remind yourself of your purpose in order to clarify your value and focus your thoughts. Recognizing your role in the meeting’s agenda will also build your confidence, particularly if you tend to be uncomfortable speaking in meetings.
2. Prepare in advance.
Take a few minutes before the meeting to think about how you can maximize your value. What specific data or insights you can share? Can you offer support to others in the meeting? Are there questions you can ask to advance the conversation?
You won’t be able to anticipate all lines of discussion but spending a few moments to define your strategy will help you capitalize on opportunities in the meeting. Advanced preparation can also provide you with the chance to socialize some of your thoughts and ideas with influential participants before the meeting.
3. Remain engaged in the discussion.
In meetings that are poorly managed, it’s easy to tune out and shift your attention elsewhere. And with smartphones. laptops and other technologies, distractions are everywhere. To maximize your value, you must stay focused. If you’re not following the discussion, you won’t recognize when to strategically participate. The only thing worse than not participating at all is contributing an idea that makes it clear that you’re not paying attention.
Staying engaged can also provide you with opportunities to demonstrate your leadership skills. If the meeting veers off-track, gracefully re-direct the conversation to the focus of the meeting. Or if the discussion becomes tense, you may be able to add a comment or ask a question that defuses the situation.
When you’re busy and stretched thin, meetings can easily feel like an unproductive use of time. But how you engage in business meetings influences your overall professional brand. Make a strategic effort to add value at each and every meeting.