Call it a product of busy schedules, increased tech connectivity, or fried attention spans, but for whatever reason, when you gather a group together for a meeting, almost everyone has a hard time ditching distractions and sticking to the task at hand. In fact, 47% of employees cite distracted co-workers as the biggest hurdle to having productive meetings.
If you take your job seriously, you’re probably already doing your best to demonstrate engagement: actively listening, chiming in when appropriate, and keeping your phone off the table. But even when good meeting etiquette is at the top of your mind, it’s easy to slip into bad habits.
To stay in your co-workers’ good graces and get something valuable out of every meeting, though, you need to keep the following in check.
1. Not Making Eye Contact
At this point, the importance of making eye contact during a meeting has almost become a cliché—but for good reason. Maintaining it demonstrates engagement, interest, and respect. It’s even been shown to increase your self-awareness. It might seem uncomfortable at first, but there are tons of easy hacks to improve your eye contact without creeping folks out with a deer-in-the-headlights stare.
One of my best tips is to make sure that the set-up of your meeting is conducive to eye contact from the get-go: Try arranging your group in a circle or semi-circle so everybody can see each other without straining. Even if somebody’s not in the same physical space as you, the importance of eye contact still holds true.
To accommodate attendees dialing in via video call, position your camera in a way that’s within your natural line of vision so you appear to be looking one another in the eyes when you’re speaking.
2. Using Your Laptop
Using your laptop often starts with the best intentions: taking notes, fetching relevant information online, and so on. But it’s way too easy to go from transcribing the meeting to trying to figure out the name of that song you got stuck in your head last night without even realizing it. That’s why I recommend avoiding laptops altogether. Many things usually done on one can easily be done by hand, like taking notes on a pad of paper, or sharing data on a printed-out spreadsheet. But if a computer’s an absolute must, you can still minimize its use. When going through a presentation, for example, encourage the speaker to share his screen on a TV so everyone can follow along.
Even if your meeting organizer hasn’t strictly put a ban on laptops, leaving it at your desk or keeping it closed while you focus on the agenda helps you keep mindless distractions (not to mention email and chat notifications) at bay. Plus, ditching it unprompted will definitely leave a positive impression on your co-workers and perhaps encourage them to do the same.
3 Attending an Irrelevant Meeting
There are three things you can be certain of in life: death, taxes, and unnecessary meeting invites. And while it’s so easy to just click “Yes” on an invite and show up just because you were asked, you’re actually doing a disservice to your teammates. When you have no stake in a meeting, coming across as disinterested is practically unavoidable. It’s much better to stay at your desk and be productive than show up and look bored.
To combat this, make sure you get a heads up on what the meeting is about, why the organizer wants you there, what (if anything) you need to prepare in advance, and what you hope to accomplish by the end. Having this context makes it easier for you to decide whether the meeting would truly benefit from your presence, or if your time would be better spent elsewhere. Often, this information is included in an agenda or in the meeting invite itself, but if not, feel free to briefly check in with the meeting organizer face-to-face beforehand. If you decide your presence isn’t necessary, politely explain your choice to the organizer. If you handle it right, he or she will probably appreciate your honesty.
To a certain degree, giving into distraction is just part of being human. Nobody can stay on track 100% of the time, and that’s going to be apparent in meetings every once in a while. But if you ever find yourself unintentionally leaving every meeting with no idea why you were there, it’s worth introducing some tweaks to your routine.