How to make every meeting meaningful.

I’ve always been a note-taker. It’s a habit and skill that has served me well throughout my college and corporate careers, and even now as a business owner. Taking good notes eliminates the second-guessing of what was discussed in meetings and minimizes reliance on my memory. However, notes are only as good as the information you’re able to jot down and what you do with that information afterwards. This is why debriefing is so important and can turn every meeting into an opportunity. I now make an effort to debrief after every meeting or seminar, which has made a huge impact on my follow-through.

Debriefing simply means taking the time to review any notes and materials you’ve gathered from a meeting, presentation or workshop, then determining what to do with that intel. The debrief should be done as soon as possible after the meeting so you can easily recall the sights, sounds, body language, energy, thoughts and feelings you’ve experienced, all of which are important in deciding your next steps. This can be done as a team, as long everyone involved also participated in the event being debriefed. However, you can just as effectively debrief all by yourself.

Here are three reasons why you should debrief after every business engagement:

  1. Note-taking is not always practical…or polite. In most cases, jotting down notes on a legal pad is perfectly acceptable, maybe even expected. However, pulling out a digital recorder, your smartphone or a laptop may not be the best idea in some scenarios. You’ll need to gauge the nature of the meeting and people in the room to determine which note-taking method you use. There may also be times when you need to give the person on the other side of the table your complete, eye-to-eye attention with no note-taking at all. When you can’t – or shouldn’t – write or type your notes, you absolutely must debrief immediately after the encounter to capture the nuggets of knowledge you’ve gleaned. Otherwise you risk losing key details and you may miss opportunities.
  1. Opportunities abound…if you’re listening. Quite often in meetings or presentations, the speaker will mention an app/resource/organization that I haven’t heard of before and that piques my interest. So I jot the name in the margins of my paper to research later. Or a potential client who’s called me in for one operational need may give clues to another issue that I could help with. They sometimes make reference to a colleague who’s experiencing similar challenges. When debriefing, I scan my notes for these off-topic but opportunity-laced mentions and look for ways to either utilize the resource or reach out to another potential client. I’ve made great discoveries that way, and you can too.
  1. Action trumps procrastination. The third and most important reason for debriefing yourself after a meeting is to review any actions that you need to take. This seems like a no-brainer, but how many times have you tucked your meeting notes into a folder or drawer after a meeting, never to be seen again? A quick debrief after an event is a good way to make sure your actions get acted upon. I personally highlight any action items in my notes and convert them to tasks in my project management system. Add a deadline and reminder, and I’m more likely to follow through than if I relied on memory alone.

Getting in the habit of debriefing after every meeting, seminar or other business event will put you on the fast-track to efficiency. Do you debrief alone or with a team? What techniques do you use to capture and act on the information you glean from meetings? Share your approach in the comments below!