How to Be Mentally Present for Effective Meetings

Business.com / Business Solutions / Last Modified: October 3, 2017
Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

The most successful leaders have one skill in common: they stay in the moment. Restore that focus to yourself and your team, and foster more meaningful interactions, especially in a key hub of team productivity: meetings.

Being a leader is no small feat – that's why so many of us take directives rather than give them. And while there's no innate quality that makes one person more suited for a top spot than the rest, it's been my experience that the most successful and effective leaders, among many things, all do one thing well: be present.

At its core, presence – as cliche as it may sound – is the ability to stay in the moment. No matter the circumstance, you can give a problem your undivided attention. The critical thought necessary to remove almost any barrier is at your disposal, allowing you to drive home results.

Unfortunately, this is something most of us have yet to master. We split our time (and attention) doing many things simultaneously, convinced that all's well that ends well. But only 2 percent of people can effectively multitask, and those of us in the other camp reduce our productivity by as much as 40 percent when trying to perform multiple tasks at the same time.

In other words, it's not a lack of resources that get in our way – it’s a lack of focus.

Presence of mind

To watch someone who has real presence, you'd think it's a trait only a select few have. Believe it or not, it's a skill you can develop, and a critical one at that. Sure, it takes some concerted effort, but it results in being able to give colleagues 100 percent of your attention, making it much easier to identify issues, arrive at decisions, and get through meetings without wasting a minute of anyone's time.

How you go about developing this critical trait within yourself and the rest of your team is entirely up to you, but the one place where you'll find its greatest impact will be in the most unlikely place: meetings. To foster more meaningful and productive interactions the next time everyone's gathered around that table, I suggest the following:

1. Establish no-laptop zones. Jotting down a note or two during meetings makes sense. If someone gives you a detailed task, you want to remember each piece, but taking notes on digital devices is often more distracting than a pad of paper. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study confirms this, concluding that students who were barred from using laptops and accessing the internet during class learned more and performed better on exams. And it's not like you closed out of email before heading to the conference room, so ditching the laptop only makes sense.

At Google, according to one former employee, there was a time when laptops sat open during almost every meeting. People had so much to do that they didn't dare step away from a task. The only problem: Those in front of computers missed important updates, and it started to reduce productivity, so leadership banned laptops during certain sessions.

2. Demand meeting preparation. You wouldn't go into a client meeting without a little preparation, so why are the standards any different for internal meetings? Ask staff members to review all necessary materials beforehand. It will allow them to not only focus on key issues but also to arrive at decisions much sooner.

Let's say an upcoming meeting will involve a financial model. Such subject matter often comes with quite the cognitive load, and most people will need to process the information to make sense of it. By getting the model in advance, employees can pay better attention to what the speaker is saying rather than try to comprehend the matter in the moment. If people aren't prepared, be willing to cancel the meeting.

3. Move to video for your conference calls. Think about the last time you were on the phone. Chances are, you were doing something else while taking the call. Employees are no different. If you're working with remote staff, videoconference them in. They'll be less likely to multitask when they can see you and you can see them.

When you take a genuine interest in other people by giving them your undivided attention, it becomes that much easier to make personal connections both inside and outside the office. You start having actual conversations in which you really listen to what another person is saying. No question is left unanswered and no person is left unheard, which isn't a bad way to develop more meaningful, productive interactions.

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