Not too long ago I graduated with a Masters of Business Administration and was promptly launched into the Healthcare IT industry (an industry which I knew nothing about). As a newbie working among seasoned veterans, I made every effort to prove myself.
I began attending meetings early on, taking meeting minutes and running powerpoint slides for my boss. Those things are simple and I am convinced anyone can stay attentive during a meeting when there is a specific task to be done. The difficulty came when I began attending meetings that no longer required my administrative support.
Learning different ways to look productive during meetings has been a result of some serious trial and error. Following these 5 tips may look different for everyone, but I encourage you to try these out and put your own unique spin on them.
1. Develop Good Posture
Your posture can say a lot about your attention span. Slouching in a chair instantly gives others the impression that you are neither engaged nor attentive. To improve your posture, roll your shoulders back and straighten your spine. It will not only do a world of good for your back, but it will also give others the impression that you are actively engaged in the conversation (even if you are not).
Consistently fidgeting and shifting during meetings is common behavior for individuals who are not engaged. In my opinion, being too fidgety can come across negatively and make it seem as if there is little attention being paid to the presentation. To prevent this misconception, I recommend coming up with three or four seated positions and alternating between them every 10-15 minutes.
2. Read the Handouts
In some cases, handouts and other materials are provided via email prior to the meeting. Whether you choose to print a hard copy or pull it up on your computer, it is imperative that you have a copy of the materials when the meeting begins. At the very least, bring a notepad and pen with you.
The key is not to go through and read the material in-depth. They key is to skim through the documents and underline, circle or highlight key words or phrases. Personally, I skim through documents and PowerPoints looking for words I do not know the meaning of. I circle them and write a note in the margin reminding me to look it up later. This simple action allows me to interact with the text, and remain productive. It also allows me to learn a few new things in the process.
3. Utilize Your Pen
This is very important. What you do with your pen can have a profound impact on how productive you look. Repeatedly taping the pen on a notepad is not recommended, and is actually a bit rude (especially if you are in a room with a conferencing phone). Personally, I hold my pen in my right hand resting the blunt end on my cheek until I begin to write. I have seen others hold their pen with both hands at either end which also seems very effective.
If possible, try to take notes and write down key phrases. Utilizing the pen periodically will allow others to believe you are engaging in the meeting, even if you are not engaging in the discussion.
4. Make Eye Contact
This next one may be a bit difficult, and requires a healthy dose of boldness. Make every effort to look at the person speaking. Now, by no means is it necessary to stare at the speaker the entire time they are speaking, unless you are truly engaged in what they are saying or how they are saying it. However, it is highly recommended that you glance at each individual speaking at least once when they have the floor.
Now, when you have made eye contact with the individual speaking, the next step is to squint your eyes slightly while giving a very slight nod in their direction. In essence, you are saying "Mmm, I hear what you are saying - good stuff, good stuff" but without actually saying a word. Very effective, and gives the speaker a little bit of a boost of confidence.
5. Ask the Right Questions
Lastly, asking a question is the best method of looking productive - especially if you genuinely have no idea what is going on. Here are just a few types of questions you can ask:
1. " Can you repeat that?"
This question requires a bit of work. Begin by jotting down some simple notes prior to asking this question. Time it perfectly so that the speaker finishes their comment right when you are finished jotting down your notes. Not only does it show the speaker that you are engaged and interested in what he/she had to say, but it allows others to take note of your serious multi-tasking abilities.
2. "Can you go to slide ___?"
It doesn't matter if you are going back a slide or forward a slide, this question will give others the impression that you are interested in the material. Having a follow up question to accompany this one is recommended.
3. "What are the action items we have discussed? Will they be included in the meeting minutes?"
This is not a question for every meeting, but it is safe to assume actions items will result from a meeting the majority of the time. If any action items are assigned to you, and even if they are not, be sure to jot some key words down for future reference once the speaker responds to this question.
Let's be honest, meetings are not always fun and engaging. That is okay. By using these 5 practical tips, you can make yourself look like a productive and attentive meeting attendee. All you have to do is develop great posture, read your handouts, utilize your pen, make eye contact and ask the right questions.