by   Steve Roche

Attending a meeting

Everybody at a meeting has some responsibility for the smooth running of the meeting, not just the chairperson. Since you probably prefer to attend meetings that run well, what can you do to help?

Should I go?

Meetings often take up a huge amount of a manager’s time, and being a little more choosey about the meetings you attend can greatly increase your effectiveness by freeing up time.

If you are invited to a meeting, you need to decide if you really need to attend. What would be your purpose in attending, and is that worth the time and effort to attend?

The kind of things that you would want to attend a meeting for are...

  • to give information
  • to get information
  • to present a proposal
  • to question someone else’s proposal
  • to safeguard your group’s interests
  • to assist in making decisions
  • to come up with new ideas
  • to meet a senior person or power player
  • and so on.

Ask yourself the following to investigate the consequences...

  1. What would happen if I did go?
  2. What would not happen if I did go?
  3. What would happen if I did not go?
  4. What would not happen if I did not go?

Given the balance of your answers, you can make a decision about attendance. If you decide that on balance, you will not attend, make sure you inform the person who called the meeting and give them a reason for your decision.

You should also consider whether sending someone else from your team would be a better option. If you do decide to do this, ensure that the person calling the meeting is aware of it and is given the chance to convince you otherwise if he thinks it necessary to do so.

Notice that you cannot really make this go or no-go decision without an agenda and a meeting purpose. If you do not receive these along with the invite, you need to request them. If they are not forthcoming, you may in some cases wish to politely point out that you will not attend without seeing them first.

Another option is to attend for only part of a meeting. Discuss this with the person calling the meeting and agree when you should arrive and when the business that is relevant to you will end.

If you do find yourself in a meeting that clearly has no relevance to you, and is in effect a waste of your time, you should leave. It is of no benefit to you or others to have you sitting there doing nothing for what could be several hours. Say to the chair that you feel that your presence is not required, unless there is something you have missed about the agenda, and that you would be more productive elsewhere.

The agenda

Getting an agenda in good time prior to a meeting is critical, so do whatever you can to help make this happen. You need it to...

  • decide whether to go
  • read up on agenda items you are rusty on
  • read up papers and reports that will be tabled for discussion and prepare your questions on them
  • get an agenda item included if you think it relevant
  • know the running order of items, especially if you have a presentation to make.

If you have a presentation to make or specific input as part of the agenda, make sure you prepare it in good time and send around any papers that others will need to read before attending.

At the meeting

Please arrive on time. If you have run meetings, you know how frustrating it is when people arrive late. If you regularly have trouble arriving on time, have a look at the topic on Time Management.

If there is no agenda or obvious purpose, ask. Ask this again if the meeting progress seems aimless. In this way, and others, you can help someone running a meeting who has not yet understood some of the fundamental requirements of running good meetings.

If there is no-one acting as chairperson, you could choose to volunteer to do so.

If there is no-one acting as scribe, and there is a need for one, you could choose to volunteer to do so. A scribe has a great deal of influence over a meeting as they are able to ask questions to focus and summarise the discussion. Once they have been seen to have written a summary of a discussion point, it is likely the discussion will move on rather than wander back to that same point. Asking questions as scribe can be a powerful way to help the group focus on what they have achieved or decided.


You are there to contribute, so do so. When you do, make sure that what you say is relevant, worth hearing and has not been said before. Speak clearly, and maybe a little slower than your usual speaking speed. Be succinct and don’t ramble. Notice the effect that your remarks are having on other people. Are they nodding in agreement, or nodding off to sleep?

If the topic is unfamiliar to you, wait until more experienced colleagues have had their say. A good clarification question can then be a very useful contribution.

If you have nothing to contribute, keep quiet, but show that you are actively listening. An easy way to do this is to take notes.

If you have a proposal or report to present, keep it short and focus on the main points that are of interest to the people present. Don’t assume that everyone has read your beautifully prepared briefing papers. Be open to incorporating other’s ideas into your proposal so it becomes ‘ours’ rather than ‘mine’. If it looks as if your proposal is going to be rejected, you could seek to get the decision delayed so you can do some more work on it in the areas that are giving rise to objections and also to lobby the objectors. Also be aware of the strength of your attachment to your own ideas. Are they worth pursuing, or past their sell by date? If your proposal is rejected by the meeting, accept it gracefully and actively support the decided upon alternative.

Another way to contribute is to ask people who are not saying much to give their contribution. This is really the chairperson’s job, but it may be being overlooked, so help out.

At the end

Make sure that you know what has been assigned to you by way of actions, and what other people are doing that will affect you.

Ask yourself what you have learned about other people that will help you in your dealings with them in the future.

Ask yourself whether you have achieved your purpose in the meeting, and if not, why not?

Give some feedback to the person running the meeting. See the topic on Feedback for some tips on how to do this.


Don’t blame other people if a meeting seems a waste of time. If you have to be there anyway, make sure you get something useful out of it.