Check out Hillary totally crushing this meeting! Is that notepad encrypted?

How to totally kill it at your next meeting

This article began as a series of notes for myself but I knew at least a few of you have found your heads spinning in meetings gone off the rails and might find this useful.

As a Product Designer at a tech startup most of my meetings revolve around the creation and planning of new features. In the first week of a sprint a lot of good and bad ideas get thrown around. This is great! But sometimes things can go so far off track that people leave a meeting more confused than when they entered. What follows are some practices I’ve to implemented to ensure that I get the most of my meetings.

First, figure out your goals.

This is something I never used to do and I’d leave a meeting not being entirely certain what to take away from it. Even if you’re not running a meeting you should still have some sort of goal for yourself. It could be clarification on a task, a new assignment, or to get sign off on requirements.

I know Moleskine are all the rage but I am partial to the age old large yellow spiral bound notepad (a new note in Evernote would also work). Think about what the meeting is about, why you’ve been invited, or any questions you’ve had. These goals don’t necessarily need to even be questions. You might have an idea or knowledge to contribute as well. Make a list of these goals at the top of the page before the meeting starts. Now you’ve got a clear purpose for yourself!

Take notes.

We all know you’re supposed to take notes during a meeting but how many of us actually do? I almost never see my coworkers jotting down notes and sure enough what should have taken one 30 minute meeting turns into three one hour meetings because no one can remember what we said last time. I like to get my pen in my hand right from the start so I actually remember to write. If you’re like me you know how easy it is to get caught up a discussion and realize a half hour later that you have not written a single thing.

There is nothing too fancy about my system. No fancy tabs or shorthand. I simply write the meeting description and date at the top of the page followed by my goals and go from there. Afterwards I am left with a chronological record of all my meetings in one place. Sometimes I will make a master document in Evernote and transfer the relevant notes into there to to have a more focused synopsis but I always hang on to my written notes.

A lot of times you’ll discuss an idea or come up with a requirement only to do away with it a minute later. For me this is the most valuable aspect of keeping good meeting notes. I never scribble anything out. If there is a redaction I use a simple strike-through or ‘x’. Why is this important to point out? Picture a conversation that usually goes like this:

Meeting Participant A: “Hey what if we do x?”

Meeting Participant B: “No I think we talked about doing x and decided it was a bad idea. Why did we decide not to do it though? It seems like a good idea right?”

Meeting Participant A: “I’m not sure. Let’s spend the next 10 minutes figuring out something we already figured out.”

If you’re a meeting superstar you’ll have your very readable notes detailing exactly why that feature was a terrible idea and you look like a totally organized badass.

Walk away with clear action items.

We’ve just wrapped up a meeting. I’ve talked a good talk, collected my things, and moseyed on back to my desk thinking “You really killed it in there.” only to immediately realize that I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.

A habit I’ve tried to get into when I feel like a meeting (or my brain) is going off the rails is to try and ask something direct about the goal of the meeting. “So where do we stand on feature z right now?” I’ve also made a habit of checking in on the goals I wrote down before the meeting started. It may seem obvious but I find that it’s so easy to get lost in exciting discussions that you can quickly end up down a rabbit hole. Inquiring after stated or related goals helps keep things on track and running efficiently. Before the end of the meeting I’ll announce my own next steps to the group as a final confirmation of what the priorities are. There is nothing worse than wasting time on a requirement that no longer matters or on wireframes that are not needed.

Even if you’re not discussing something actionable you should leave with more clarity than when you started. Even when I leave a brainstorming session with more questions about a feature I still know what my tasks pertaining to those questions are. If any of the things I’ve suggested above are new ideas to you I encourage you to try one out. Set some goals and check in with your needs so you can make the most out of your meetings.