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How to be the MVP at Your Next Boring Meeting

Amy McDonnell, CareerBuilder writer

It’s 8 a.m., and you’re still chugging down your morning coffee, struggling to reconcile that it’s daylight. Or it’s 1 p.m., and the post-lunch fatigue is setting in. Ooooooor, it’s 4:30 and you’re ready to wrap things up for the day.

And then you see it. The pop-up meeting reminder in your inbox.

It doesn’t really matter what time of the day it is, does it? Any meeting is enough to elicit groans, no matter the number on the clock. And a boring meeting? Well, that’s enough to make anyone want to take it out on the printer.

Instead of sitting through your next groan-worthy meeting thinking about subtle ways to escape, try these tips to flip the tables and be the “most valuable player.” You’ll not only be productive and help the team accomplish more, but you also just may learn a thing or two about yourself and what you’re capable of.

  1. Request an agenda ahead of time. No one likes to be blindsided at a meeting – and yet, we’ve all gotten meeting invites with a vague subject line and no details. This isn’t only frustrating – it’s counterproductive. By (nicely) asking the meeting organiser to send a brief agenda to everyone ahead of time, you’re shaving off a good chunk of meeting time that’s normally spent dispensing and reviewing the agenda before actually getting creative juices flowing and making some progress. You’re also ensuring everyone gets ample time to review the meeting’s purpose and goals prior to the meeting, take notes or think of questions to ask, and cross items off the agenda quickly once you’re all in the same room. Your co-workers will appreciate you being a proactive member of the team, and your initiative may get others in the habit of asking for an agenda, too, Better yet, it may prompt meeting organisers to start including one in their meeting invites automatically.
  2. Ask insightful questions. Asking questions (questions which you’ll have time to think of before the meeting, if you follow tip No. 1) is a great way to improve collaboration and idea-generation, help the team anticipate and solve potential road blocks early on, and keep yourself engaged and interested in what’s being discussed. It also showcases your critical thinking and leadership skills – which the boss will be sure to notice.
  3. Bring snacks. I’m being a bit tongue in cheek here – but really, snacks never hurt, and they may even lighten everyone’s mood and make for a happier meeting. After all, if you think it’s going to be a boring meeting, it’s likely your co-workers aren’t looking forward to it, either. So throw some Starburst and Kit-Kats on the table, sit back, and watch the magic happen. When people are happy, they’re more productive. Win-win.
  4. Use the “Yes, and” method. This is a technique that’s been used in the comedy Improv world for a long time, and it’s seeped into the corporate world – for good reason. The point of it is to strip down people’s egos and encourage openness. The premise? In Improv, “Yes, and” involves accepting whatever the person who speaks before you says as correct, then responding to it with “Yes, and…” before expanding on their line of thinking with your comment. Rather than starting your response with “but” or “no” or anything negative, which is so rarely productive (though it may make you feel momentarily vindicated), try “Yes, and” in your next meeting. After all, how quickly does being “that guy” kill the party? No one wants to be in a meeting with someone who’s always knocking down everyone else’s ideas. “Yes, and” forces you to think in a new way and see things from someone else’s perspective – which tends to open up your own.
  5. Offer a new perspective. Sometimes, a discussion can get deadlocked in opinion, or mired in groupthink – and a fresh perspective in the form of a thoughtful question or anecdote is all it takes to shake others out of their rut and get the conversation back on track and moving forward. It’s often helpful to mentally put yourself in the shoes of your customer, or to imagine someone completely opposite of yourself and consider what they might have to say about a particular topic or challenge. Offering a perspective you don’t necessarily agree with, or one that more closely mirrors the experience of someone unlike yourself, shows empathy, gets you outside of your comfort zone, and makes for a better result.
  6. Keep people on topic. There’s nothing wrong with a good joke or light banter at work – after all, it’s often what keeps us all sane. And — much like snacks — laughter is good for the soul. However, there’s a time and place for distractions, and too much of them in meetings can serve as a big time suck. Try to keep the chit-chat and pop culture gossip to the first few minutes of a meeting, and if it continues, say something about the project to get people back on task. Now, this is not to say you can’t lighten things up with a witty comment or joke during a meeting, but be respectful of everyone’s time and realise that some may not appreciate your humour (or humour in general).
  7. Help establish next steps. Even the best meetings can be ruined by lack of follow-up or accountability as far as who’s responsible for doing what, next. Even if you’re not running the meeting, if the meeting organiser or presenter doesn’t review next steps at the end of the meeting, there’s no harm in piping up and asking what next steps are, or in collaborating with others in the meeting to decide what those are and divvy up tasks. You may also consider volunteering yourself for a particular task – if you do this, just make sure you can follow through on it.

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