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WWCode Career Nav #25: Energize Your Virtual Meetings

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Written by Kelly AnlasDecember 26, 2022

Kelly Anlas, Engineering Manager at Twitter and a Woman Who Code NYC Director, shares, “Energize Your Virtual Meetings.” She discusses how bringing energy to meetings is strategic, proactive, and generous. She gives tips on engaging others and discusses the importance of contributing and receiving value in meetings.

I've had many years and meetings, ones that have gone well and ones that have not gone so well. I've learned some tips and tricks and hope to share them with you. Sometimes we are the ones running those meetings. Sometimes we are attendees who feel like we might not be in a position of power. Why bother being the person who cares about this? There are a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, it can be strategic. The nice thing about thinking of yourself as a person who can show up to meetings as a positive presence, both as the moderator and as an attendee, is it's one area where you can demonstrate your leadership ability and how you can impact a room. It doesn't require any outside certifications.

You don't have to go back to school. You don't need to study coding on the weekends. It's something that's already part of your schedule showing up to these meetings. It is a prime opportunity to demonstrate that there is something that you can bring to the table that not everyone can do. I like talking about this topic because of the feedback I get from my colleagues. The things that I'm showing up with, the processes that we go through, little tips and tricks that we use, it makes a difference to people. That's something that can help you to stand out, especially if you're a manager in that room or if you're working with some colleagues that you want to build impressions with.

Secondly, it's proactive. If you can think back, how many days would it take you to count back to find a meeting that left you drained of all energy? For me, it's like a day. It was probably yesterday. For obvious reasons, those are not great for us. They're probably not very effective. If you don't feel engaged in a meeting, you're probably not getting any value from it. You're probably not contributing a lot of value to it. It can be proactive to create a space for yourself that feels more motivating. It feels more exciting. You want to be more engaged with the content. Energizing your meetings and being that difference maker is a proactive action. Finally, it's generous. Right now, at work for us, things are a little bit chaotic. People have their up-and-down days. Your colleagues are going to appreciate having you in a room. If you're a person who's bringing them a little bit of light, a little bit of fun, maybe it's a little bit of structure. This is going to manifest differently for everybody.

The way that you want to show up to these meetings is always going to be an individualized thing. Insert your adjectives here. Bringing something different to the space by being a person other people want to be in the room is a great action. It's something they're going to appreciate. Hopefully, when you are the person who needs that little bit of an energy boost, they'll be able to give it to you in return. This happened to me. I had a couple of days where I was the high-energy one. I was getting feedback from my colleagues saying it was lovely to be in the room with me because things have been pretty tough. Having somebody having some fun and bringing some energy helped them energize. When I needed that, I could say it to my manager. I can use the pep talk that you're giving me right now. I need this energy too.

Some tips to prepare. First and foremost, what is your internal narrative going in? What are the meetings on the agenda, and what are you already feeling about them? For me, there are meetings I've had where I felt like it was a waste of time. We sat and listened to one person talks for 45 minutes reading off an agenda that we all could have read ahead of time. What sort of things am I bringing into that meeting? What sort of preconceived notions do I have about my fellow attendees? Think about that internal narrative. What is it that you're already thinking? What are the things you're already starting to feel before you even open that call and hit the join button? Take stock of that.

All of those feelings are valid and necessary. We want to appreciate them and also understand where they're coming from. Start with that internal narrative. Hear what you're already thinking and feeling before entering the room. Identify those things. Secondly, find your balance. You want to join in a neutral to positive space, however that might look to you as an individual. I tend to be a little bit high on the energy scale. A lot of times, if I'm going into a meeting, I'm going to be nervous, so this even applies to interviews. I need to take some deep breaths, maybe do some meditation, something to bring myself down. High energy can manifest as babbling. Conversely, if you don't necessarily show up to a room, and feel energized, but you want to, you want to bring yourself up a little bit to again engage with energizing the room. Maybe you can listen to some music.

I like to listen to music and move around a little bit. Maybe you take a break. Whatever you need to do to get yourself to a place where you're either neutral, if not trending towards some higher energy or some optimism, do that. Every meeting should have an agenda. The organization is just as powerful, comforting, and motivating as the energy in a forum. People tend to like structure. It gives you something to start with and something to go off of. When you join the meeting, set a good example. Whatever you want other people to read off of your mood, start with that. Again, I tend to be higher energy so that it will be smiles. I like to crack a lot of jokes. I like to jump in and start telling people about my week.

This is different for different individuals but thinks about the example you want to set and be intentional as you enter that room. Weigh the benefits of predictability with the unexpected. Predictability in meetings is perfect for building trust and cohesion. The unexpected can be valuable in shaking things up. Think back to being in school; you probably don't remember most of those days when you went through your routine and things were just as expected. Routine and predictability are good. That helps you get into the learning rhythm and establish a bond with your teacher and classmates. The unexpected is where you can dig into different feelings and emotions. Doing something a little unexpected can add some energy back into your meetings. Finally, seek out allies. If I'm going into a meeting and I know I'm going to try something a little bit different and plan it out, I pick my allies ahead of time. I message them and tell them I will try something different in this meeting. I ask them to have my back.

Let's assume even though they had my back, we got into this meeting, and something went wrong. Here are some tips for what to do when it all goes wrong: Take deep breaths. Remember, everyone else in that meeting is probably doing their best. Whether or not that's effective is a different question, but assume the excellent intent. Think about the outcome that you want to achieve from this meeting. Is it strategic that you want to demonstrate your leadership here? Is it generous? Hit the reset button, either internally or externally. I think external is fantastic. If you're not the leader of the meeting, take a timeout and ask for clarity. You can say, can we talk about what the intention here is? I'm not sure what the goals we're trying to achieve are. Can we try something different? If you are the leader, address the issue. Perfectly fine to say this meeting isn't going quite the way I expected it to. I want to take a moment to pause and re-establish the reasons that we were having this meeting and what we hope to achieve so that we can change their direction. Don't be afraid to address the elephant in the room. Finally, suggest a change. I tell this to my leads at Women Who Code all the time.

What's the worst that happens? As long as you're not going to go off on an expletive-ridden rant, everything else you say in the work context will be fine. Even if people don't like your suggestions, that doesn't mean they're not valuable. Suggest some changes. Play some games like red, yellow, and green to shake things up. This is an opportunity for everybody in the room to go around and give a status update on themselves. I recommend that you don't overprescribe what these mean. Everyone understands a traffic light. Let people define themselves. They could be green because they have a weekend gig and are super excited to play with their band. Maybe they are yellow because the project they’re working on hit some snags, and now they are not as confident about the execution. Leave the definition to others so they can share what matters to them. You can go around and do some gratitude sharing.

Sharing things you're grateful for can change the vibe of a meeting. Play with some questions. Finally, take a break. Suggest taking a break. Demand it, whatever it might be. Never underestimate how powerful it can be to let everyone take a minute to revitalize. It would help if you were deriving or adding value at every meeting you attend. If you are not adding value and not getting value, stop going. If there's a reason that you have to go, figure out what it is. What is the way you're giving value, or what is the way that you're receiving value? Don't be afraid to push back on these things. Talk to your manager. Lead by example. Show up as the person you want to be in the room. Focus on your outcomes. Ask for what you want. Give yourself grace. Some days you'll be on top of the world and the one giving all the energy. Some days you're going to need it from other people. Every meeting you can make just 1% better, your colleagues and yourself will appreciate it.

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