top of page

Mastering Meetings: Understanding Your Role and the Power of Your Voice

Oftentimes, our days are filled with more meetings than we know what to do with.  I remember when I first became a GC, oscillating between wondering why I was even in some meetings and thinking that, if I could just get some time at my desk (out of meetings), I could actually get some work done.  Not at all the right mindset, but there it was.


Over time, I have learned how to harness the power of meetings and how to be a more effective participant.  That, in turn, has made me a better colleague and collaborator, better informed and engaged, and a better GC all around.


Below are some thoughts for you to consider as you grapple with meeting participation.  These are all things we know; just things we need to remind ourselves of from time to time.


  1. Understand your role.  Meetings should always have agendas and participants should know their role and expectations.  (Bear that in mind if you are the organizer.)  Before heading into a meeting think about why you were included, what you can add, what you want or need to get out of the meeting, what prep work you could do to be more effective.  If you aren’t clear or have questions, ask the organizer.

  2. Actively listen.  You’re there.  You’re in it.  But are you?  Close your laptop; put down your phone; put aside the multi-tasking.  Actively listen to what is being discussed.  Think about how you can contribute, about what you are taking away, about how your organization/clients are impacted.  Not only is it respectful to the organizer and those around you, it gives you the opportunity to be better tapped into the business and your colleagues so as to offer more sound advice.  (Not to mention, the continual keyboard tapping is highly distracting to those around you.)

  3. Be a contributor.  It is hard sometimes to speak up.  Sometimes, we worry that, as lawyers, we don’t fully grasp the business concepts or analytics.  We worry that we may look foolish or waste others’ time.  I ask you though:  How many times have you squelched your thoughts only to have a colleague ask your very question or make your point?  The point is not that someone else got credit for the contribution but that you missed an opportunity to engage and to shape the conversation.  You missed an opportunity to learn.  And, sometimes, your colleague does not step up and the question or point are lost. Similarly, your role is to challenge and identify risks, opportunities, considerations, that others may not see.  They need your voice, even if it is not popular, and even if it is couched in a disclaimer that you’ll need to learn more to be able to fully opine.  Speaking up lets you inform/educate your colleagues and keeps you in the conversation to fulfill the vital advisory, risk-mitigation role. With that said, it is challenging sometimes, in some settings, to feel sufficiently confident to speak up.  One pro tip to consider:  Your first spoken contribution is almost always the most challenging.  You can lay the groundwork for comfort by ensuring that your first utterance in the room is not the tentative question or point you want to make or the challenge you need to articulate.  Show up to the meeting a few minutes early and socialize a bit with others as they arrive.  Engage in the introductory banter that generally kicks off a meeting.  Of course, match your tone to the topic (obviously more somber exchanges would precede or kick off a meeting with a more serious topic), but engage in the exchange nonetheless to make it easier to speak up when it matters.

  4. Support others’ participation and contributions.  Be supportive of others.  Be kind and educational in responding to questions that may seem “dumb” or obvious (do unto others!).  Amplify voices that may be getting stepped over or not heard.  Help to draw out folks who have not contributed with directed questions, or even a call out (“Sally, do you have any thoughts on xxx?”).  Ensuring others are contributing to their fullest gives you more/better information to fulfill your role, and it gains you critical allies and outposts throughout the organization.

  5. Follow up.  Just as meetings should have a clear agenda and purpose, there also should be clear takeaways.  A good organizer will send out notes with any critical decisions and to-dos.  If that doesn’t happen, consider doing that yourself, if not for the whole group, then with a note to the organizer or others clearly stating your takeaways and to-dos, along with any deadlines or further needs.  That will ensure that you are on the same page and allow for further conversation as necessary to clarify.

  6. Reevaluate purpose, attendance, cadence and impact.  If you are the organizer (or if you have influence with the organizer), take stock from time to time of any standing meetings.  Consider whether anything needs to change in terms of agenda, timing, logistics, attendees, etc.  Consider asking certain key attendees if they are getting what they need or what is intended from the meeting, and adjust accordingly.

  7. Accept the things you cannot change.  There are times when, despite your best efforts, you wind up in meetings that are less than impactful, that you cannot change or influence, and that you wish you didn’t need to attend.  Rather than wear your frustration on your sleeve, make the most of it.  Use it as an opportunity to get to know another attendee more, to think about a different perspective or aspect of your business, to absorb what you can. 

At the end of the day, you have the power to make your presence and participation meaningful, to get something out of even the most mundane or challenging of settings.  It is a matter of being thoughtful and intentional and of leaning into the most critical role that we as GCs play – that of trusted advisor.  Showing up – really showing up – means something.

Vicki Donati

Ready Set GC, Advisory Board Member

SVP, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, Crate & Barrel







bottom of page