7 things the smartest people in the room do at meetings

Have you noticed that your really smart colleague does things a little differently in meetings than you do? It’s because they play to their strengths and give their all, while also getting the most from a meeting.

You might yawn just thinking about your next meeting, but the smartest people in the room are not half asleep like the rest of your colleagues. They do meetings differently; here’s how.

They take strategic notes

Also note, I didn’t say “they are the note-taker.” The smartest people in the room are actively listening, and so they cannot be consumed with taking meticulous notes. They will take notes on action items they are responsible for, but they will not have their head down to document the entire meeting.

A designated note-taker, whether intentional or not, is often seen as the assistant in the room. Smart people, who wish to garner the respect of their colleagues, do not want to be seen in the supporting role. They only strategically note down what they alone must not forget. This also signals to the other people in the meeting that they take their assignments seriously.

They are focused and do not multitask

Listen, we’re all guilty of multitasking while on a Zoom call that doesn’t really pertain to our job or current projects. But the smartest people in meetings do not multitask. They know that by only paying 50% attention, they are doing themselves and their teammates a disservice. 

While you might argue that multitasking is necessary when you are busy and important, smart people know that multitasking taxes your brain unnecessarily.

If the meeting is important enough for them to attend in the first place, they will be present, listen carefully, and contribute productively. Smart people are seen as intelligent because they are focused and add value to the conversation.

They make eye contact

Smart people will be taking in cues from all aspects of a meeting. They will purposely make eye contact with the speaker to assure them they are listening. They’ll also be paying close attention to people’s body language while they speak or present.

Often, they’ll be able to pick up on points that the presenter is unsure of, and will be able to offer strategic help. They come across as wicked smart, having anticipated what their colleague needed, but really they are masters of observation.

They have a clear goal in mind

Smart people enter a meeting with an objective in mind. They know what they hope to learn, contribute or discuss in the meeting. If and when a meeting deviates from the plan and no longer allows for the objective to be met, smart people will speak up and bend the conversation back towards the intended goal. They can even cleverly disguise a question as a way to get things back on track.

They (politely) interrupt and exit

Smart people are valued, and so coming up with an excuse for being needed elsewhere is a plausible reason for them to leave a meeting. When the clock closes in on the 30-minute mark, they will ask the question they need to have answered or contribute what they came to add, even if they are interrupting.

They’ll soften their interruption by explaining they are needed in the next meeting or that they must finalize a report. Then, they’ll get what they came for, contribute intelligently, and get the heck out without wasting any more time.

Their phone is for fact-checking

Smart people question what they are told and think critically. In meetings, they can be seen picking up their phones to run a quick calculation or to google something to verify the information being presented. Otherwise, their phones are put away or sit face down on the table.

Those who see themselves as important will allow text messages and emails to filter through their attention, because they may be needed at any moment. But smart people know that they will contribute best when using technology to aid the discussion and fact check, but nothing more.

They are impossible to nail down

We’ve all worked with smart people who attend a small fraction of meetings because they know their time is more valuable elsewhere. If they can’t contribute meaningfully to the meeting, smart people will bow out gracefully and don’t easily commit. 

When they do show up though, you know they will be on fire during the meeting. They aren’t as burnt out from meeting overload, and they are masters of active listening, meaning they will again come across as the smartest in the room.

In a way, this is the same as playing to one’s strengths. Smart people show up and speak up when they know they can make a meeting better.