How To Attend An Event Or Meeting

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John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina. 

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The definition of attend is “to be present at (an event, meeting or function).” It seems fundamental, elementary and perhaps too basic to base an article or short essay around this subject, but I tell this all the time to my clients, from those in their early careers to established careers: People don’t do the fundamentals; that’s why I want to focus on the fundamentals. 

In other words, look at the mistakes at the highest level of sports. A mistake can be traced back to the fundamentals. A player moves their feet or alters their shot or kick. In hockey, they don’t backcheck, and in basketball, the players stop playing defense, assuming their offense will cover for them. Fundamentals. Politicians and pontificators forget one of media’s first rules: The mic is always on. Forget that and your career could be over. Miss a tackle in football? It’s the game. Forget to keep your body in front of a pitch as a catcher in baseball? That could be the game, the championship and more. Fill in the blank. You see it all the time in the games of our lives and in life. 

I have learned a lot about event attendance best practices as a host of hundreds of events per year. I don’t call myself an event planner; don’t even talk to me about becoming an event planner or professional all-the-time host. It’s one of the tougher jobs out there. If you don’t believe me, take on hosting and event-planning duties. 

One of my big issues with professionals is that they are not present at events, meetings and critical functions. Instead, use events — especially in your work life — to propel your career forward. Don’t become the distraction, the checked out. Maximize events and your presence and watch your career accelerate. 

Here are what the best career professionals do to attend to the events in their work lives:

Become A Part Of The Plan 

Passive, checked-out and self-centered guests don’t add anything to the events they attend. Let’s say you have committed to an industry association meeting in person next month. Whether you intend to go in person or online, you have committed to this event. Why not ask the meeting hosts and leaders if you can participate in making it a better event? What more effort will it take? Ask them if you can help recruit, post and amplify the public relations work that is needed to bring more people into the event. How about you blog or become a source for one of the articles around the topics of the event? Could you work with the internal team for any pre-event functions to promote, educate and inform others? Why not add your name to one of the committees and get a title you can use to build your own brand while helping out? 

What Not To Do: Stop acting like a judgemental consumer. Don’t have the attitude of, Hey, I am paying for this thing and taking my time — they need to come to me. It’s not my event. I am just showing up. Take advantage of the event and meeting, but realize you will gain more in terms of knowledge, not to mention reputation, if you participate. Participate and contribute!

Become A Goodwill Ambassador (No Matter Your Status)

Some people have asked me, “I thought you focused on executives and high performers.” My answer? I do. I have worked with many of them who I saw that potential in long before they had the titles and income. It depends on how coachable they are and how they act. 

Here is what I have found as an officer in the Army, as a college professor and, in my longest functional professional role, as a coach: Top performers are willing to do the little, forgotten or what most consider below-the-radar things with excellence. In other words, they take pride in doing the small things. As for events, here are some small, dirty-work types of things that score highly no matter what your career status: Speak well about the speaker(s). Clean up messes. Volunteer to introduce someone. Stand in for an absentee. Encourage others at the meeting. Promote the event.

What Not To Do: If you have to participate in a meeting that is not overtly about you, decide to not think, act or speak negatively. If it is not exactly what you wanted or you didn’t connect to something that could directly benefit you immediately, don’t call attention to the negative. Don’t disparage, talk bad or take down the value. Create value by promoting and helping make the function better. 

Realize How Important Just Your Presence May Be

Some of the best events I have hosted, been a part of and participated in over thirty years could have turned into a disaster. Here are some of the things that have happened: power outages, rescheduling, no speaker, speaker accidents, speaker no-shows, zapped software and presentations, participant health issues, participant medical emergencies, mental health issues during a conference and major speaker gaffs. There are more, but you get the idea. Bringing people together can be a disaster.

Events and your attention during a meeting may turn the event into something special if you are checked in to the people and the content. Even if you don’t set yourself apart as a leader on paper, you can become one by helping an event become positive and impactful. Help the participants recover, and respond. Take ownership by helping the meeting become better. 

What Not To Do: Don’t let a meeting fail if you can help it. Stand in for a speaker, find help and become a part of the solution. I have had clients who became career heroes to participants, their companies and their colleagues by helping people overcome issues during even the smallest meetings. 

Bring your presence, your attentiveness and your active senses to every meeting and you will stand out and wow others as a leader and not just a passive consumer.


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John M. O'Connor

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John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina. Read John M. O’Connor’s full executive profile here.