We’ve all been there…overbooked, tight deadline, unexpected call to pick up the kids, or being booked for a meeting during an appointment. Some of us ask to change the date or time of a meeting but for meetings that have to proceed due to urgency, size, and purpose, sometimes the show must go on.
If you’ve ever been asked to cover for someone in a meeting, this can have a different result, depending on your personality type, availability, and interest in the subject matter. But no matter who you are, you most likely nod, smile, and approach the meeting like any other. However, agreeing to cover someone in a meeting is a larger responsibility as it is no longer just your reputation and relationships on the stage.
You have agreed to represent someone else and with that comes assumptions from other meeting participants that you can fill the shoes of the one who is absent. While you may not be their identical twin in every possible way, agreeing to represent someone in a meeting should be something you take to heart and perform your very best impersonation to support continued progress in their absence. Here are just a few effective meeting strategies so you can prepare and present your best on behalf of the one who entrusted you with their responsibility and reputation to cover for them in a meeting.
Prior to the meeting, seek to understand information about the meeting such the following.
The meeting’s purpose or goal – Understand the reason, expectation, and desired outcome of the meeting to make sure you are the right person for the task and to get a frame of reference for what you will be participating in.
What to bring to the meeting – Understand if the audience will anticipate your bringing stats, updates, task statuses, documents or anything else.
Location, date, and time – Saying you can participate is one thing but make sure your calendar agrees and that you have time to get there on time.
A previous agenda – If a previous agenda can be shared, obtain a copy to understand the normal flow.
Ask for an introduction – Ask the person you are covering for to introduce you to the host or facilitator prior to the meeting. This is a great way to make sure they inform others of their absence and that someone in the room knows you are coming.
In order to be a good substitute, do your best with these suggestions:
Be on time – You are there as a representative for someone else so not only should you be on time for their sake but to have time to get the lay of the land, introduce yourself, and be ready to participate, avoiding issues such as finding the room, running out of seats, traffic (for remote meetings) or interrupting a session you are not used to participating in.
Take notes – Write what you hear as best as you can. While you may not know everyone in the room, do your best to capture enough information using a meeting tool like Docket to share with your friend. Do not assume someone in the room is taking notes.
Request actions, due dates, and clarifying points – If questions or tasks are sent your way, document them and ask for anticipated deadlines. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification or a contact should anything be misinterpreted.
After the meeting, share a recap with your peer to ensure they feel up to date and can see your efforts were a success. Make sure they are clear on your notes and any actions that required immediate attention.
The process above is a happy path. Here are a few more ways to cover for someone in a meeting.
Last-minute situations – These occur and time to prepare may not be a luxury. Plan a backup in advance for your meetings and offer to be a back-up for others so this is always a readied option. This makes emergencies less of a negative impact on the people around you.
Long coverage – When covering for someone’s meetings over a period of time, keep a simple log for each meeting with the date, time, brief summary, and any actions. Track the actions to completion so nothing is lost and they can return to their process with greater ease knowing the work was well-covered.
Take pride in the fact you were asked to help and show them your best. Covering for people in meetings shows initiative and can lead to introductions, networking, and other opportunities.