Susan Smith Blakely

Women Lawyers can ROCK at Business Meetings

Business meetings generally are awful and bore the heck out of me.  I invariably think that I am wasting my precious time because everyone drones on and on and on, repeating what has already been said out of insecurity or talking just to hear themselves talk.  I usually only go for the food or because I know someone is taking notes on who is NOT there.

Something has to be done about these meetings, and women are the ones to do it.  Law offices thrive on meetings, some good, some bad.  Women are very organized and are natural born leaders --- whether they recognize it or not.  They also are great multi-taskers and recognize the value of TIME and the no value to time wasted.  One of the most powerful law firm managing partners of a global law firm got to that position because she was willing to take charge of organizational tasks that her manager did not want to do.  She volunteered to cut through the disorganization, and she made life much easier and more enjoyable for her superiors.  She was rewarded, handsomely.  People do not want to be in unstructured settings where nothing gets done and time is wasted --- like useless meetings.

One of my favorite women is taking hold of this subject.  Jezra Kaye of Speak Up For Success tells us why most business meetings are so awful.  Her most recent website blog nails it.

Here are Jezra's reasons for why most meeting attendees/participants want to "bang their heads against the wall" --- with a little help from my own paranthetical self!  This is the way that Jezra  and I cut to the chase.  Her advice on how to speak effectively is applicable in many settings, including meetings.  Knowing what is wrong with the offending meetings is the first step in fixing them.

Here is what is wrong and why most people do not enjoy business meetings:

The meeting lacks a clearly stated purpose (aka the "why are we here?" problem);
The wrong people are at the meeting to accomplish the clearly stated purpose (aka the "clear the room of the ones who came only to eat" problem); and
People talk too much, listen too infrequently and get nothing accomplished (aka the "put a muzzle on the guy who refuses to stop talking" problem).

However, as Jezra points out, some offices have rules about meetings every Friday morning, for instance.  If that is the case, don't just meet.  Accomplish.  Something.

To do that, you need to take charge.  When I was Chief of Staff in public service, I insisted on agendas for every important meeting.  The key word is important.  If the meeting is not important, why waste time holding it?  The staff didn't always appreciate those agendas, but they sure got the job done.  If an attendee got off on a tangent or just enjoyed having the floor, the agenda kept us moving.  So much to do, and so little time to do it.  That was the mantra, and it worked.  The agenda was evidence of the need to move on or be there all afternoon.

Women are really good at this kind of organization.  However, don't be so rigid that you become the problem.  But, if you reign in the terror of meetings gone wrong, everyone will appreciate it.  But, do not forget the donuts.  Sprinkles help, too.  Sweetness is never a bad idea!


Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law.

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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