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10 smart questions to ask before attending that next meeting

Original article by Neen James  |  Adapted by David V. Appleyard

We get invited to so many "meetings", but do we really need to attend all of them? Use the following 10 questions to assess if you should accept that next meeting invitation:

Another meeting!

What is the agenda of the meeting?

Don’t attend any meeting without a clear agenda. Otherwise you are wasting precious time. Don’t ever schedule a meeting unless you make it clear to your attendees what the purpose, time-frame and outcomes of the meeting will be.

Who else is attending the meeting?

Ask this question to ensure the meeting is set at the right level and the correct people are involved.

Why do you need/want me involved?

Make sure there is a good reason for you personally to attend the meeting.

What time does it start? 

Be strict with your own time and also those of the attendees. If you are scheduling the meeting, always start on time regardless of if all attendees have arrived. Make it known you will start on time.

What time does it finish?

Advise all attendees that it will finish on time to allow them to attend their next engagement.

May I attend for my section of the agenda only?

Where possible, don’t sit through unnecessary discussions; only attend when the agenda item relates to you or your department.

What do you need me to prepare before the meeting?

Get clear instructions on the preparation required. If the person scheduling the meeting advises that you don’t need to prepare anything, ask question 3 again: Why do you want me involved?

When will minutes of the meeting be available?

If possible, take minutes at the meeting (handwritten OK), walk to the photocopier, make enough copies for everyone, and then give them out. Avoid the extra work of typing minutes unless absolutely necessary.

Where is the meeting being held?

Ask for clear instructions, including the floor and meeting room number to ensure you don’t waste time looking for the right location.

Could we teleconference instead of having a physical meeting?

Where possible, handle matters over the phone or the Net to avoid wasting time traveling to and from meetings.

By asking these 10 simple questions, you will help educate those around you on the importance of managing and respecting time. You will save yourself time and be more productive in your day.

  • Neen James sees herself as a "personal leadership productivity expert."
    Subscribe to her e-zine at

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LIAR - The Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous RecommendationsA classic guide to the smart art of ambiguity

by David V. Appleyard

Robert J. Thornton, professor of economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA., was feeling frustrated about one of the worst occupational hazards of being a teacher—that of having to write letters of recommendation for people with dubious qualifications. In an attempt to address the problem, he decided to put together an arsenal of statements that can be read two ways, and he called his collection the Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations—or LIAR for short!

LIAR may be used to offer a negative opinion of the personal qualities, work habits or motivation of the candidate, while allowing the candidate to believe that (s)he is being praised to high heaven. If you study the following examples, you'll soon get the hang of it:

  1. When called upon for an opinion of a friend who is extremely lazy, just say:
    "You will be very fortunate to get this person to work for you."
  2. To describe a person who is totally inept:
    "I most enthusiastically recommend this candidate with no qualifications whatsoever."
  3. To describe an ex-employee who had problems getting along with fellow workers:
    "I am pleased to say that this candidate is a former colleague of mine."
  4. To describe a candidate who is so unproductive that the job would be better left unfilled:
    "I can assure you that no person would be better for the job."
  5. To describe a job applicant who is not worth further consideration:
    "I would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of employment."
  6. To describe a person with lackluster credentials:
    "All in all, I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too highly."

Thornton points out that LIAR is not only useful in preserving friendships, but it can also help avoid serious legal trouble in a time when laws have eroded the confidentiality of letters of recommendation.

In most American states, he notes, job applicants have the right to read the letters of ecommendation, and can even file a suit against the writer if the contents are too negative. When the writer uses LIAR, however, "whether perceived correctly or not by the candidate, the phrases are virtually litigation-proof."

Professor Thornton's book first appeared in October 2003 and is published by Sourcebooks Hysteria at a list price of $14.99. If you're stuck choosing a birthday present for the person who already has everything, this highly entertaining read might just be your answer.