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APU Careers Careers & Learning

Why Yes I Have My Own Agenda

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By J. Thompson
Online Career Tips Staff

Have you ever started a meeting and all you heard were crickets in the background? Or conversely, everyone talked over one another and after it was over there was little traction. In fact, you left more confused.

No matter where you are in your career, effective project management and leadership in meetings are important career development traits and they’re universal in just about every organization. Before you send out the next invites, check out these simple tips for leading purposeful meetings.

Set Your Agenda

Whether it’s a meeting with one person or a hundred, produce an agenda and the further in advance that it’s sent out the better. Consider the agenda as covering your tracks. You know where your project is and where you want it to be. Now, you have to move the discussion forward to its destination without letting it get derailed by side-conversations or a lack of engagement. Before every meeting, even if it’s redundant, set a clear and simple-to-follow agenda. Be sure that it balances everyone’s interests so (a) people come prepared; (b) have formulated solutions; (c) and aren’t surprised when you expect contributions. It’s always a good idea to include time for recognition or for highlighting recent accomplishments at the beginning. It’s great filler for the first few minutes while people are still joining or recalibrating their brains to the new discussion. Plus, the helpful people on your project deserve your recognition and will be apt to help more in the future.

Park It  

Brainstorming is fun during a creative session, but not during a meeting in which you need answers. It’s a natural tendency for people to jabber. Without a crisp agenda, the conversation can get pulled into a black hole of distracting sidebars. If you see the conversation running away with the time, interject and say that while you appreciate the insight, you’d like to put the topic in the parking lot to address at a later time. The business world is full of silly jargon, so pick a winner and gently make the point that it’s time to get back to the agenda.

Name Names

It’s not uncommon that people get lost in deep-thought during a meeting. Perhaps, they’re figuring out the meaning of life. Most likely, they’re wondering if there are any Krispy Kreme’s left in the break room. Great public speakers make eye contact and they spread it around. It creates an engaging atmosphere. If you’re on the phone and haven’t heard from someone in a while, ask for their input by name. You’re not calling the person out. You’re just letting the person know that his or her expertise matters. Remember that if your job is to drive results and it takes active participation to do so, then don’t ever hesitate to call on someone.

What Did We Learn Today?

A coworker of mine concludes his meetings with the phrase, “So, what did we learn today?” You don’t have to always use the Mr. Rodgers approach, but it’s important that you recap what the team agreed. Be sure to leave enough time in the agenda to discuss next steps and to assign action items. Don’t leave any action item unassigned. A best practice is to have only one owner per action items so there is no confusion over who owns it.

Put it in Ink

You don’t have to write the Magna Carta, but be sure to notate key points, timelines, and the people responsible for each action item. It seems obvious, but few people do this well. Be concise and be sure to send out your post-meeting notes as soon as possible so it ensures you actually understood everything that was said. The notes also give participants the opportunity to make corrections. With the notes you can also update stakeholders who were unable to attend.

These tips will ensure that everyone is on the same page as your agenda.

[How to Create the Purpose Driven Meeting]

J. Thompson is the Vice President of the Content team at American Public University. He earned an M.F.A in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and performed his undergraduate studies in English literature, political science and business management between the University of New Mexico and East Carolina University. His career insights draw upon experience as a communications vice president supporting learning management, applicant tracking, and talent and leadership development for Bank of America and other Fortune 500 firms.

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