by Krishna on June 3, 2007

A few people from a customer of mine were having a webinar session with a vendor and they invited me along to provide my appraisal of the product. It was a rather tiresome 2 hours and the consensus at the end was that we would not be proceeding to select this particular product. As we were wrapping up the meeting, one of the customer people turned to the other and said, “At least I got my 3 actionable items.”

I was puzzled and I asked him what he meant. He said that whenever he was in a meeting, he would try to note down 3 things that he had never known before. And then he would follow up on them. Sometimes, a few of them turned out to be quite useful.

His habit intrigued me. In the days that followed, I tried to imitate him. Whenever a meeting ended, I would create a bulleted list of interesting items. I tried to maintain the documentation habit, but I could not sustain it. But the spirit of that discussion remained with me and I tried to see how I could make meetings meaningful to me. Some thoughts:

  1. Some meetings can be gold mines of information and ideas. Plan for such meetings. Pay attention. Follow up as soon as you can after the meeting to think about and discuss the ideas so that you can take advantage of them.
  2. Other meetings can be totally barren. But you can learn something from that too. Why was the meeting totally useless? How can you avoid such types of meetings? And if you cannot avoid them, what can you do to make them more meaningful?
  3. Sometimes, the most important thing you can get from a meeting or a seminar is not the specific pieces of information, but understanding the overall concept, especially when you are hearing about something for the first time. In this case, take fewer notes and get excited enough to follow up.An example is a seminar where they are discussing what a technology can do and show code or architectural diagrams on the screen. Instead of taking those down, instead write down a few points about the advantages and later, you can do more research on the Internet.
  4. At the end of the meeting, ask people what they thought about the discussion. They may have a different perspective than you did and that can be the source of many ideas. Also, you may not be fully alert during the entire meeting and others may have latched onto some important point that was not emphasized enough.
  5. The times before and after the meeting are as important as the meeting itself. For example, by planning for the meeting, you will have prepared your mind to focus on what you want to get out of the meeting. After the meeting, by doing further research, you can validate whether the information and tips you collected from the meeting are accurate. It goes without saying that you should be open enough to deviate from your original plan for the meeting if the presenter takes you down an unexpected train of thought.

Of course, this is based on the same learning philosophy that you need to carry everywhere. They say that the best learners would read the ingredients on food wrappers if they cannot find anything else to read. Learning requires an attitude to always be on the lookout for things to increase knowledge and improve behavior.

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