Ever been in one of those meetings that feels as though it could have happened without you?
It’s not a good feeling.
But rather than avoid all future meetings on this basis, it’s important to learn how to be a productive participant.
If you were invited to an online meeting, it means that there’s someone out there who either requires your input or wants you to hear something. If you’re going to do your job right, it means you’ll have to be a productive participant in some fashion or another. After all, it’s not just their time that’s being spent here. It’s yours.
There are ways to become a more productive participant in online meetings, whether you’re there to contribute or actively listen. Here are a few tips:
Two Words: “Early” and “Often”
The best way to ensure that you participate in an online meeting is to start off on the right foot.
That means being prepared enough to add your input both early and often.
This isn’t a license to interrupt and monopolize conversations. In any meeting, you should give respect and attention to whoever it is that has the proverbial floor.
But if you want to be an active participant in the meeting, it’s better to break out of “wallflower” mode as soon as possible. Not only will you feel more engaged from the start, but you’ll be more invested, which makes you a better listener as well.
Good Manners in the Digital World
Even if you think yourself socially awkward or, at the very least, an ineffective communicator, a good set of manners can make up for a great deal of shortcomings.
Need to brush up on those manners? Here are a few good rules of thumb:
- Think of an online meeting like any other meeting. The people on the other end aren’t robots, even if you haven’t met them before. They’re people, and they’re present with you, just like any other meeting. Give an online meeting the same respect you’d have around the conference table at the office.
- Respect the meeting. Dress code, punctuality, preparation—these aren’t just buzz words. Even in an online meeting you need to demonstrate that you respect their time just as you would respect your own.
- Give attention to get attention. When you don’t have the floor, do your best to remain an active listener who’s engaged with what they’re saying. If need be, ask clarifying questions to ensure you’re still on the same page.
- Demonstrate that you’re conscious of other people. If you interrupt, it’s fine to apologize for it. If you need to get a word in, a simple phrase like “excuse me,“ will accomplish a lot. “I’m sorry I’m making you repeat yourself…” is just as valuable. There’s no penalty for being polite in any meeting—in fact, you’ll often get a lot more leeway for your efforts.
As long as you stay respectful of other meeting attendees, you won’t have to worry so much about those faux pas moments you might be dreading.
Doing Your Homework
No matter what your role in the meeting is going to be, there will be something for you to do. That means there’s homework.
If your role is as a listener, then come prepared with some key questions. Draw up a list of the answers you need to move forward and don’t let the meeting end until you’ve asked them.
If your role is as the meeting leader, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Do your best to know all of the issues, not to mention keeping mental notes of who’s been involved in the meeting thus far. You don’t want people to feel out of the loop.
If your role is simply as a contributor, then come prepared with your end. Try to anticipate the questions that will be asked and have the answers standing by.
Be Your Own Tech Guru
An online meeting comes with its own little twist: you rely on technology for any face-to-face. That means you’re going to have to be your own tech support if something goes wrong, which is why it pays to know your technology inside and out.
If you’re a remote worker who has to rely on online meetings often, you can purchase a video conferencing kit to cover your bases. This kit includes a webcam, a Chromebox computer, a GoToConference subscription, and even a wireless keyboard and touchpad.
Having this kit handy will keep you ready for teleconferencing no matter where you are. All you have to do is keep the equipment on standby and join the meeting when it’s called.
Even if You’re Not Contributing, Remain an Active Listener
You don’t have to be talking 80% of the time to be an active contributor to an online meeting—but you do need to be active 100% of the time.
One good rule of thumb: take notes. Not only will it increase how much you retain from each meeting, but it will help you come up with specific points and questions for later follow-ups.
Active listening means that you’re doing more than just paying attention. It means that you’re taking an active role in ensuring that you will both understand and retain what’s being said. Not only does this help you with how much information you retain as a result, but you’ll be a bigger participant in the online meeting because of it.
Control Your Meeting Attendance
Sound like a lot of work thus far?
Sometimes, it pays to reduce the load. Since we’ve all been in that “wallflower” situation where we don’t understand why we’re in the meeting in the first place, it’s important to try and attend only those meetings where your presence is required.
If that means politely declining some meeting invitations in some cases because your energy can be better spent elsewhere, that’s fine. The key here is to use your own judgment in determining which meetings are important for you—and which meetings are just “busywork.”
Invite Other People to Participate
If you notice that you’ve come to lead a meeting you weren’t supposed to lead, don’t be afraid to turn the volume down a little and directly seek the input of other attendees.
A simple “Jerry, what do you think?” can be enough to get some valuable input.
This is particularly important if you’re in a leadership role in the meeting. You’ll want to make sure that everyone feels as though their voice was heard and valued—otherwise, they’ll probably feel like wallflowers themselves.
Even more valuable is the insight you’ll get from inviting every attendee to be a part of the conversation. There’s a reason they’re there, after all, and it isn’t simply to take notes.
Keep the Meeting Moving
Unless it oversteps your bounds in this particular meeting, there’s no reason that your input can’t be used to keep the meeting moving forward.
In many online meetings, you might find that people have trouble speaking up. Rather than take a step they’re unsure of, they’re happy to rehash the same topics. If your meeting has no particular “leader,” feel free to take the reins and ask if everyone’s happy with moving to the next step.
Ask for Actionable Takeaways
If your role in the meeting is as an active listener, make sure you’re always looking for actionable takeaways at the very end.
There’s a good chance you’ve come up with a few in your notes already. But if this face-to-face meeting is a rare chance to interact with an employer directly, it’s important that you know what your goals are. This isn’t only for your benefit—it helps make sure that both sides of communication have everything they need to be happy about a productive meeting.
When in Doubt, Ask
Ever hear the phrase, “and at this point, I’m too afraid to ask”? It’s what happens when you let yourself stay out of the loop too long.
There’s a reason that active listening is so important: it keeps you on the same page, even if the topic being discussed isn’t exactly your forte. There’s always a way for you to include yourself, even if it’s to ask others to provide a perspective for an outsider who has a different specialty than most of the meeting attendees.
As awkward as it can be to ask others to slow down, it’s even more awkward to be put on the spot and reveal that you’ve been totally out of the loop. It’s far better to volunteer that fact and ask for some help to get on the same page.
Learn for Next Time
Finally, one of the most important things you can do as a participant in meetings is learn what works for you and what doesn’t.
After an online meeting, consult your notes. What did you miss out on? What could you have done a better job with? These are the weak points you can work on for your next meeting to ensure you’re always in the loop and an active participant in any online meeting.