If you’re new to the corporate world, and just entering your first professional job, the transition can be quite intimidating. I know it certainly was for me. I first entered the corporate world when I was 19 and started working as a weekend receptionist for a travel agency. At that age, I was transitioning from my jobs in fast food and retail to office work and it was a big jump. There was a whole new set of expectations that I was expected to meet professionally and I didn’t know where to start. So today we are talking about the unsexy world of business documents. As a new graduate or entry-level professional, a lot of your responsibilities may be administrative, so it’s especially important to know these how to handle and master these meeting documents. However, even if are in a higher level role, these meeting documents are even more important for you to know and master because it will be an expectation that you know these terms and policy and procedure regarding these meeting documents.
As someone who literally spends a large majority of their day organizing, supporting, and preparing for meetings, I can tell you that you know you’ve reached pinnacle professionalism when your days are filled with meetings and no time to do work as a result of those meetings. And while they may be many organizations that are trying to cut out meetings (let’s face it, a lot of them are not well organized and become a black hole of productivity), they are vital to every organization.
Love them or hate them, they play an important in any business or professional’s career and it’s important to walk into one like you know what you’re doing (and you will after reading this!).
Before we start off with the 4 Most Important Meeting Documents you need to know as a young professional, let’s start off with the different types of meetings you may encounter (and there can be lots more depending on your industry but these are the general standard).
Standing Meeting – A standing meeting is one that is permanent in the calendar of it’s participants. It is an on-going meeting at has a set time and date each week, month, quarter, etc.
Status Update Meetings – Status update meetings are ones that revolve around a particular project or initiative. They could also be set as a standing meeting, or participants might only meet when there’s a particular event – i.e. after a project launch.
Departmental/Office Meetings – These meetings are usually very general meetings regarding new policies or general updates within the office as it will usually include people from a variety of different roles.
Team Building Meetings – Team Building Meetings are ones that usually have some type of team activity involved or a facilitator come in to speak on a particular topic relating to personal/professional development. It’s intent is to get to know your co-workers and better work cohesively as a team as opposed to other meetings where they are topic discussions and action items on the Agenda.
One on One Meetings – In Canada, this is often referred to as a “Bi-Lat,” yes I didn’t know what it mean either when I started working for the Federal Government. I’ve learned that it’s more commonly referred to this in Eastern Canada but it basically means the same thing as a one-on-one meeting except it takes place every 2 weeks. One on one meetings are exactly what it sounds like – you meet one on one usually with a supervisor or with an employee.
Committee Meetings – These meetings are internal top your organization or department and may consist of members from a variety of different fields to work on a specific task. For instance, you may have a committee meeting for your social committee or for a particular initiative or policy. Committee meetings can also be referred to as a Working Group meeting.
So whether you are a new graduate or transitioning to a 9-5 for whatever reason, here are 5 documents you should know and master in any role.
After you leave school, an agenda is no longer a planner where you write down your class schedule and homework assignments. In the professional world, agendas are outlines for meetings with numbered topics to ensure meeting structure. Every agenda in every organization will have different formats, but the basic structure of an Agenda contains the following components:
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2. Meeting Minutes
To follow on the next point, a follow up to Meeting Agendas is Meeting Minutes. As you go deeper into the professional world, you’ll notice that your calendars will fill up quicker and quicker with meetings. Meetings are the epitome of corporate life and with so many meetings each day, it can be difficult to remember exactly what happened and what was discussed in each meeting. That’s why it’s so important for someone to take meeting minutes.
Usually, in every meeting, there is a designated meeting note taker. This person is responsible for taking notes for everyone and clearly summarizing the discussion points on each topic. Similar to the Meeting Agenda, Meeting Minutes should include the header information of facilitator, note taker, Invited, Apologies/Regrets, and the Date of the Next Meeting. However, it also clearly summarizes what was discussed on each topic and the action steps required as a result.
Pro Tip: If you are the meeting taker, try your best to summarize the discussion points as much as possible. I have (and still am) been a note taker many, many times and it can be kind of difficult because a lot of people talk at once. My best advice is if it is an informal internal meeting, keep things in short, point form sentences.
When people read meeting minutes, they don’t want to be reading this entire essay about a meeting they just attended, they just want quick take away points. Also, make sure you highlight or bold points where action must be taken by a staff member so they are reminded that the task was set as their responsibility. For instance, if your organization is discussing a new project and your manager assigns the responsibility of research to a colleague, highlight it as an action item so everyone in the group knows whose responsibility it is and where to go if they need follow-up information. The worst thing that can happen after a meeting is to have another mini-meeting after the meeting because people aren’t able to remember who had which task. Clearly, state it on the Meeting Minutes and you will be the savior of this black hole of redundancy.
3. Deck Presentations / PowerPoint / Prezi
Before we start, let’s just clarify one point on this topic that it took me forever to understand, a “deck” is professional slang for a PowerPoint presentation. I think that we all know how to create a PowerPoint presentation from our school days but I wanted to share some tips that I’ve learned throughout the years about creating PowerPoint presentations for an office.
1) Keep it short and sweet. Like really short. I’m not saying not to put in effort into your presentation but when you’re asked to do a presentation, remember to keep it as a brief overview. Especially if the topic doesn’t relate directly to the work of all your colleagues, people have really short attention spans and will dream off if it’s too long or contains too much technical detail and jargon.
2) Use large font and less text. And more pictures! No one wants to be staring at a screen with tiny font on it, and that goes especially for older colleagues who might now have the best eyesight. But most people tend to glaze over large paragraphs of small text on a presentation screen so instead, use a large font for keywords on a topic and expand on them in your presentation.
3) Don’t read off the slide. On the last point, don’t rely on your presentation to also be your talking points. There’s a notes section at the bottom of PowerPoint that allows you to write your talking points and have them show on your screen and not the presentation screen if you are presenting from a laptop. However, even if you aren’t, make sure you prepare note cards instead of reading off the slide so the presenter’s back isn’t facing the audience.
Whether you’re creating the deck or presenting it, these are basic tips to ensure you prepare a kickass presentation to your group or boss. Another tool that I use is Prezi presentations. It’s much more interactive but it’s a different learning curve so make sure you have enough time to learn it before you commit to it.
4. Memos (short for Memorandums Of Understanding)
A memo is essentially a cross between a formal letter and email from one person/department to another in an organization. A memo is more formal than a company-wide email and almost resembles a letter format to communicate an action request or policy change. Memos sound intimidating, but they’re really not. They are a communication piece between individuals and departments internally and usually consist of Company logo, To, From, Date, File # and Subject Line. The only difference between a Memo and say a company-wide email is that depending on the organization, they may contain file numbers and can become a permanent part of the organization’s business history.
For instance, a company-wide email may state the holiday business hours for December/January. It’s quite informal and really more of an FYI than something to be included in a memo. However, if there is a policy change that all employees must use up all their vacation time by a certain date and code their holiday time appropriately, that may be issued as a memo. It could become a part of the company’s official HR policy and thus might become a part of the HR records in case someone does not code their time properly and assumed they could take off time as a part of the holiday schedule.
Memos can be used for basically anything and they essentially create a paper trail for a company to confirm that actions and policies were requested and implemented. Memos can be circulated prior to a meeting so make sure you are up to date before attending an important meeting!
I hope these were helpful! Going into a new office role was really intimidating and these are all of the things I wish I knew when walking into my first meeting.