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.

What I Learned at Info Camp

Word cloud of session descriptions for InfoCamp: Information, Design, Research, User, IA, etc...Last weekend, I attended InfoCamp, a community-organized “unconference” for people excited about information and how we manage and consume it.  This was its 4th year in Seattle, and I must say, it blew me away.

At first, I was pretty skeptical of the whole “unconference” idea.  There weren’t any predefined topics or sessions other than the keynote and plenary speakers and all the breakout sessions were run by conference participants.  I thought this meant the breakout sessions would be poorly prepared, and thus I wouldn’t like them.  As it turned out, there was a pretty good mix of highly polished presentations and more spontaneous ones.  The polished ones were good, and the spontaneous ones seemed to morph into enjoyable and informative Q&A sessions.

Overall InfoCamp gets an A in my book and I’m certainly going back next year.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even volunteer to run a session myself.  Without further ado, here’s a quick synopsis of the sessions I attended.

Content Management Strategy – More than just words

Vanessa Casavant gave a interesting & entertaining talk about how content management strategy fits into an organization.  The answer seemed to be right in the middle.  She explained that the role of a content strategist is to ensure that information & features being published by an organization have a clear alignment with the organization’s mission, and that they aren’t sending mixed signals about the organization to the end consumer of that information.

My key take aways were that content on the site needs to be in alignment with an organization’s strategy and that messaging should be consistent across the board, rather than a haphazard spray of content all over the organization’s website.

DAM Systems for Creative Agencies

Tracy Guza gave an overview of how creative agencies (mostly advertising firms) can employ Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems to manage their pictures.  This included file storage, searchability, meta data, and the whole nine yards.

I was particularly interested in this session because I work for a large stock photography company, and I wanted to learn more about how creative agencies use and manage the images they buy from us.  It was enlightening to learn some of the challenges facing a firm that manages 50,000 images, which are very different than the challenges my company faces in managing 14 million images.

Economics of Online Advertising

Jeff Huang led a discussion on how the economics of search advertising work.  This included the auction and fraud prevention.   Much of this was old hash to me, but it was interesting to get questions answered by an expert who has worked at all three of the big search engine companies.

Priority Inbox

Ario Jafarzadeh, one of Google’s designers on Gmail gave a talk about the design process behind Priority Inbox and all the iterations they went through to get to the current design.  It was pretty interesting to hear him describe all the decisions they made from what type of icons to use to whether they should use a video or a written document to explain it to users (turns out, they decided to make one of each).

This session was like manna falling from the sky.  I wrote a post about two weeks ago describing how much I liked priority inbox and speculating as to why it had taken so long for someone to do this.  I got my question answered, or least got his answer to it.  He explained that email is so personal that email providers have to get this sort of thing exactly right or else they’re going to upset their users pretty badly.  Apparently the machine learning (AI) behind this was so complicated that it took Google until now to build it. While I’m sure that’s true, I still think part of the answer is that nobody thought of doing that for email, or at least that nobody was willing to invest the time and money to make it happen until now.

If you’re interested in the keynote and plenary speaches, which were both good, you can find out more here.