We all know that communication in meetings — especially virtual meetings — is often less than optimal. The number of questions, differing perspectives, repetition, and multiple points of view often creates a kind of static where it’s difficult to say what goals were furthered during the meeting time.

Meeting goers don’t always remember what was said. The Wall Street Journal indicates that people remember just 10% of the material imparted in face-to-face communications, of which meetings are a subset.So, how can you improve meeting communication? Listen better.

Have a Listening System in Place

A recent Harvard Business Review suggests note-taking as a system of both documenting the meeting’s content for your needs and improving your listening.

It dubs the system, elegant in its simplicity, “Margin Notes.” Take notes as you normally would during a meeting, with the gist jotted or input. But set a wide margin on the left. In that margin, write the responses you’re thinking. Does an alternative plan seem like a better idea? Are launch progress dates clear to the product team? Should marketing be brought up to speed on the new plan?

Margin Notes fulfills several business strategy goals that help you listen better.

First, communication at meetings sometimes fails because participants pay more attention to their internal responses than to what’s actually said. It’s natural to respond with the kinds of questions that Margin Notes captures, but most people keep them in their head rather than systematically writing them down.

If they are internal, you have to say them fairly quickly or risk the meeting moving on, or forgetting them.

Both distract you from listening to what is said.

If they are externalized through Margin Notes, however, you are freed from distractions with little effort.

Second, you can systematically deal with your reactions. If someone else brings up a discussion of the alternate plan, you cross it off your list. If launch progress dates are clarified in the last ten minutes, you cross them off. If they’re not, bring it up then. If the meeting adjourns before marketing can reasonably be discussed, make a note to follow up later.

Listen Carefully. Margin Notes can also free you to listen more carefully to what people communicate. Much can, after all, be learned from business meetings, both in spoken content and in what interchanges and body language reveal about relationships between people and departments.

It may be useful to implement a form of what the WSJ calls “RASA.” RASA is an acronym for

  • Receive
  • Appreciate
  • Summarize
  • Asking questions.

The system is designed to promote best practices in face-to-face meetings, but it can also be extrapolated to business meetings.

The concept is to receive what a person is saying without jumping in with feedback – of any kind. Appreciate it by responding that you have heard it. (In face-to-face venues, “mmm” will suffice; a mental “mmm” will suffice in meetings.) Summarize (your Margin Notes). Then, ask questions as necessary.

While meeting communication can be filled with a kind of organizational static, listening carefully will allow you to communicate effectively and reach organizational goals.