What I should have practiced in college.

One of the things that every student worries about is what skills will help you become successful in the workforce.  Communication, writing, and presenting are some of the most emphasized skills in universities today.    Now that I’ve entered the workforce, I’m beginning to realize just how important they are  From my experience, two important skills in professional environments are, how to run a meeting and how to organize your own information.  When I started doing this post I was going to keep this to one post but I soon realized that because of the length and depth of this post I am going to break it up into at least two.


Meetings are something that can make or break a project and a career.  The people who succeed know the importance of having as well as not having a meeting.  This skill is one of the few that can’t be taught in a classroom but must be gained overtime.  As I have participated in good and bad meetings in the workforce, I have come to believe that success in meetings boils down to three things: knowing when to call a meeting, how to organize a meeting and how to manage a meeting.

When to call a meeting:

Meetings can eat up a lot of time that could be spent on more important tasks. Try considering alternative methods of communication. I would venture to say that if you are calling a meeting for 15 min or less you could probably say the same thing in either an email, phone call or by going by their desk.  Don’t fall into the trap of calling a meeting because you need to talk to a group of people.
Now having said that, I have also been in meetings that were 15 min that were more productive than those that were scheduled for an hour.  If the timing is right and the content is prepared then a meeting of 15 minutes can be very productive.  The rule of thumb I use is if there is a decision that needs to be made or discussed by more than 3 people and if they currently have differing opinions, or if the material needs to presented to 3 or more people urgently, then call a meeting.  Basically what I am saying is don’t be afraid to call a meeting or to not call a meeting, decide what is best for you and the business.

How to Manage a Meeting:

Before the meeting.

I have already talked about knowing when to call a meeting, but this is more about what to include in a the meeting invite and the pre-meeting work.   Most of the meetings I’ve seen either don’t have an agenda or have a loose agenda that isn’t followed.  This leads to things getting unnecessarily sidetracked and wasting time and can often result in another meeting to complete what should have been finished in the first one.  At least 24 hours before the meeting, and preferably when the meeting invite is sent, include the agenda so that people can decide how much of the meeting they need to be there for.

Presenting alternative points of view.

When you are in a meeting don’t be afraid to bring up an alternative view IF IT IS APPROPRIATE.  This is probably the hardest thing to do well.  If you argue or present different plans too often, you risk being ignored or making enemies.  Learn to phrase things in a way that doesn’t degrade other people’s points of view but rather raises your thought as a viable alternative without outright saying another persons option won’t work.

This is really one of my biggest pet peeves.  I want a discussion to happen in meetings but a relevant one.  When you make your point be short and quick, otherwise people won’t listen and will dismiss your point even if it is ground breaking.

After the meeting.

If you called the meeting send the notes for the meeting soon after and include anything people are specifically supposed to do.  This is for two reasons 1) because people forget and 2) you have a record of every ones action items.  The notes are also important  to verify that what you thought was agreed upon in a meeting was what everyone else thought as well.  Nothing kills a project worse than getting to a major junction and having a disagreement about the way something was supposed to be done.  Remember, better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it.

Now I realize that I am just out of college so feel free to disagree with me.  This is, after all, a type of virtual meeting.  What have you found useful in calling/organizing meetings?  Is there something you have seen people do that you think is better than others?

Photo used in conjunction with Creative Commons License.


6 thoughts on “What I should have practiced in college.

  1. Jordan Eschler says:

    Ooh, Yunju, that’s an interesting point. The stakeholders in a meeting are extremely important in weighing the necessity for scheduling meeting times.

    I strongly agree with Mike on the assertion that it is important to know when NOT to call a meeting. I have worked with people who are brilliant in every way – except for knowing when to call meetings. On the other hand, work IS interruption, and I tend to be liberal in accepting meeting requests. (I’m also a big fan of meeting agendas.) Either way, helpful post, Mike!

  2. Yunju says:

    Can you choose NOT to accept a meeting request? I like meetings around 30 mins, or 1 hr when there are a lot agendas, anything over 1 hr is just useless, so preparation work is definitely important. That is for internal meeting.

    Meeting with client, I found it’s almost like a defense and offense battle, and they go over 1 hr easily.

  3. Saul says:


    Great post! When I was taking Interaction Design in the art dept. our final project centered around meetings in the workplace. Our research with business professionals and students revealed an all too obvious sentiment; people love and hate meetings for all the reasons you outlined above.

    In my opinion, meetings are like small battles, and you have to know how to pick them if you’re going to survive any organization. They’re an unavoidable part of business relationships and if they’re managed well they can yield increased productivity and boost morale; do them incorrectly and your outcome will be the exact opposite.

    Nice job on this post. Here’s a shameless plug for the project we did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Puowj1K_2c

  4. I think the idea of client meetings being different isn’t exactly true. I think when meeting with a client its important to stay to publish an agenda so that you can stay on track. Now this is in my opinion so I might be way off and am very open your ideas.

    I also tend to agree with you Saul, I believe that the key to not only surviving in an organization but the way to succeeding is to know when to fight a battle and when to let it go. That is something I struggle with constantly as if I a meeting is becoming pointless I try and bring it back on track which isn’t always the best route. Nick said recently that sometimes you can insights into projects and people when a meeting goes astray and I believe that is also true. Balance is the key to this topic I believe.

  5. Nick Malone says:

    @ Mike. That was actually Jordan’s insight about when meetings go astray. I just borrowed it because it’s true.

    I believe another key point to having successful meetings is to bring the supporting materials people will need to understand the topic at hand and make a decision. Often times, we need decisions made by people who are not intimately involved in our projects and lack our deep understanding of an issue and all its impacts. Bringing a couple visual aids or a summary of potential courses of action can help keep things focused. I’ve found that it generally goes much better if I spend a few minutes drawing a diagram or present a simple list with option A, B, C, etc…

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