Corporate Key to Success #3: Meetings

(This is the third in a series of posts on Corporate Orientation.)

There is little doubt that the following is true: Corporations hold a tremendous amount of power in America, and this power has increased significantly in recent years. We often see it exercised in the form of large financial transactions, but where does the money come from? How is such unbridled power created?

Well, I’ll tell you – it’s created through meetings.

Very, very little happens in any corporate office outside of meetings. So as you begin your corporate life, this is where you should devote a huge amount of attention (after you’ve parked and found your cubicle, of course). It would not be overly dramatic to say that many of the world’s most promising businessmen have ended up as doormen and dishwashers because they never found a way to navigate the meeting climate of their businesses. Thankfully, I can offer a few simple rules to keep you afloat in such a fast-action environment:

  1. Rule #1: You don’t have to arrive on time. Sure, your meeting invitation says 10:00 – but like every great party, it is trendy to arrive fashionably late. Everyone is busy, after all. In the end, it always comes down to the law of averages, and the average is that there will be some poor schmuck who “respects everyone’s time” and shows up to start the meeting at 10:00. And by working longer at your desk, you’ve just become 15% more productive than that person.
  2. Rule #2: Talk over people on conference calls. Quite simply, you can’t “win” if you’re never heard (and neither can anyone else!). So take a good two or three minutes before the meeting starts to decide how it will end, then jump into the conversation at every chance to win over the attendees. This takes some perseverance, but remember, you’ve got the additional energy you saved from missing the first ten minutes of the meeting.
  3. Rule #3: Master the big moment. Few people realize that within an hour meeting, there is a window of about 10-12 minutes that truly matters. We call that The Big Moment.™ Why only 10-12 minutes? Well, because you have to subtract out the time waiting for the stragglers (including you!) to arrive, going over what you covered in the last meeting, predicting what you’ll cover in the next meeting, recapping topics for people that missed the last meeting because of other meetings, and talking about the weather from a windowless conference room. After all of this is removed, you only have to master those 10-12 minutes, and you’ll be a genius.
  4. Rule #4: Your Blackberry is your friend. I’ll warn you: relearning the rules of social interaction within a corporate office can be difficult. At home, for instance, if your spouse is talking with you about an important home project, you’d get beaten with a frying pan for texting in the middle of the conversation. In a corporate office, however, this is not the case. I can’t stress this strongly enough. If you’re in a meeting, using your Blackberry while someone is talking means that you are an Important Person. It also means that you’re kind enough to let others make decisions, because you trust them to do the right thing (although if your subconscious hears something that sounds wrong, don’t hesitate to stop typing and ask them to repeat it). Meanwhile, you’re racking up e-mail responses like levels of Angry Birds! If you’re still not sure, I’d ask you which sounds better: multi-tasking or single-tasking? Yes, I thought so.
  5. Rule #5: Take lots of notes. Within your first few days, talk to other corporate employees and ask them to show you their meeting notebook. Everyone has one. It’s the place that you’ll constantly refer back to when you want to relive some of your company’s greatest meeting moments – perhaps it’s best to think of it as one of those soaring sequences of movie clips at the Oscars. That time when the project went from yellow status to green status? It’s in there. Want to recall when you delivered the most action items last February? It’s in there, too! Of course, it’s likely that you missed a few things while taking those notes, but the important thing is that you have the notebook. No one can ever take that away from you.
  6. Rule #6: Make a streamlined agenda. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of making an agenda, realize that the only important thing is that you need to have an agenda. The most efficient meeting organizers master this by creating an initial agenda that is very generic, then recycling that agenda into each weekly meeting. Items like “Discuss Topics” and “Review Action Items” are especially efficient.
  7. Rule #7: Brainstorm using Post-It notes. If there’s one thing that kills a productive meeting faster than any other, it’s an idea filter. What is that, you ask? Well, you know how there are times when someone asks for suggestions, then an idea pops into your head, and you immediately think, “That’s the dumbest f&*king thing I’ve ever thought of in my life?” Well, never think that. You’re killing your own ideas! People need to hear those ideas, and that’s what brainstorming is all about. You don’t have to use post-it notes, per se, as a big paper easel will do – anything that can hold all of the ideas. Even the ones that would make your father shake his head with that sad, bemused, “What I have created?” look.

And there you have it. It may sound like a lot of things to keep in mind, but you’ll find that most people do not know these rules, and your way to success is already laid out in front of you. And it’s all possible via the magic of meetings.

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