It was the first day of our camping trip at Zion National Park in Utah. As a former Girl Scout, I was rather proud of my thorough-yet-efficient packing job. Be prepared, right? Love that motto. What we didn’t exactly love were the unexpected winds in excess of 50 mph that were tipping over trucks on the nearby highway. Despite all of our efforts to light the camp stove that evening, we had to settle for an instant gourmet dinner of turkey jerky and raw vegetables. While I was thankful that I had packed some food items that didn’t require cooking, I also learned a great lesson: the importance of a windbreak for the camp stove.
Being prepared is a critical part of being successful, whether we’re trying to cook dinner or win the next big promotion. And it’s never too late to learn some new tricks. (Did I mention that I am now the owner of an awesome windbreak for my camp stove?)
When it comes to being prepared for career advancement, many people are willing to invest time and energy to learn new skills—how to influence others, how to better align with stakeholders, or how to improve their executive presence. But I’m often surprised at the responses I get when I ask clients how they plan to show up for their next meeting. More often than not, they haven’t really thought about it.
“It’s just a weekly staff meeting.”
“I already know those people.”
“We aren’t covering anything mission-critical. I’ll just wing it.”
The truth is, if you want to be seen as someone who is prepared to move up within the organization, you need to think about “preparation” as a full-time job. Big meetings, little meetings, and everything in between. Here are three ways to make that happen.
Prepare to communicate clearly.
Find out who will be attending the meeting. If you don’t know them, learn about them so you can understand their needs and priorities. Like it or not, everyone in the room will be listening with a “What’s In It For Me?” filter. Take time to organize the information you need to share, molding it for your specific audience. Choose concise and powerful words that will help you influence the group to get the results you want.
Prepare to showcase your personal brand.
Think about what you want to be known for within your organization, and find a way to demonstrate that in the meeting. If you want to be seen as a strong collaborator, plan to ask some questions that invite group input. Or reinforce others’ good ideas and build on their points. If you want to be known as a strategic thinker, be prepared to make suggestions that add real value and move the conversation ahead.
Perhaps you are trying to elevate your executive presence. Give some thought in advance to how you will dress and where you will sit. Do you have slides or a handout? Make sure all of your supporting materials reinforce the professional image you want to portray. When you plan your contributions to a meeting with your personal brand in mind, you’re more likely to make a positive impression on the attendees and come across as polished, confident and influential.
Prepare to demonstrate your leadership.
If you are in charge of a meeting (especially if your key stakeholders are the attendees), develop a plan to position yourself as a respected leader. Select a time and place for the meeting that make sense for your group and agenda. Begin promptly, and state the goal of the meeting up front. Graciously facilitate discussions, and be prepared to keep the conversations on track. Wrap up by clarifying action plans and responsibilities. And if you really want to win bonus points, conclude the meeting on time (or early). Productive, efficient meetings (particularly those considered “high stakes”) require advance preparation, but they provide the perfect setting to highlight your skills as an effective leader.
If you have other tips on how to be more prepared for meetings, I hope you’ll share them below. In the meantime, here’s a checklist that might come in handy.