Meeting personas

May 18, 2017

I'm taking a turn away from my usual front end development posts and going to talk about work meetings and calendar management for a few posts. If you work for a big company like me (I work at Bank of America) you probably have a lot of meetings of all shapes, sizes, and importance. Eventually your calendar is crammed with meetings and you have less and less time to write CSS and Javascript. If you don't stay on top of your calendar - and more or less beat it into submission - you will find yourself writing a lot less code and attending a lot more meetings. But, in order to manage your calendar effectively, you have to understand the 4 different meeting personas...

Yup, there’s 4 different meeting participant personas: the host, the keynote, the panelist, and the bystander.

The host

The Host

This persona organizes the meeting, sends out the invite, starts the Webex, initiates the conference call, reserves the meeting space, connects a computer to the projector, and that sort of thing. Without this persona the meeting never gets organized and never starts. This persona is critical in every meeting and this is the only of the 4 personas which is at every single meeting.

the keynote

The Keynote

Like the keynote speaker at a conference, this persona is usually a single person who presents as a subject matter expert (SME) on a topic, teaches a class, or at the very least drives a discussion. The keynote usually requires significant prep time prior to the meeting. The meeting can’t get fully underway until this persona arrives.

The panelist

The Panelist

Although one step down from the keynote persona, the panelist is someone who often times is an SME relied upon in the meeting to provide some decisive information. Although this persona may not be leading the discussion, the panelist usually plays an important role in the meeting and may require some prep time. Many times a panelist is an important party in agreeing on an outcome or approving a decision. It’s quite possible a panelist may not say much during the meeting except something like, “I’m good with the approach you suggested”. But more typically a panelist plays a much more active role in the discussion. There may be several panelist personas in a single meeting, or none. If a panelist is invited but doesn’t attend, the meeting can be decidedly less productive.

The bystander

The Bystander

The bystander is usually someone who isn’t actively contributing to the meeting. Often a bystander is someone attending a class, or a town hall, or even a staff meeting. They are not presenting nor are they an SME. The bystander doesn’t need to be there for the meeting to take place smoothly, and the bystander isn’t critical to the meeting or its outcome. This isn’t to say though that the meeting isn’t critical for the bystander. Occasionally, the bystander may have to answer a question, but often times someone else at the meeting could’ve contributed the same information.

It’s more of a spectrum from keynote to bystander

Another thing about the meeting personas, is that each persona has a spectrum from, let’s say, low-end to high-end. So I can be a low-end panelist, bordering on bystander. Or I can be a high-end panelist, bordering on keynote. The spectrum runs from bystander to keynote. This spectrum doesn’t include the host. Either you are the host or you are not.

You’re not limited to one persona per day

You can be a panelist in your first meeting, a bystander in your second, a keynote in your third, and the host of your fourth (wow, you have a lot of meetings). It’s helpful to understand these meeting personas in order to manage your calendar better (other posts on that forthcoming). Here’s a few meeting descriptions and typicaly what personas show up to those meetings. My examples below assume you’re a developer, tester, or some type of individual contributor.

One-on-one with your manager

Your manager is likely the host and a panelist, you are a panelist. You’re not a bystander because you are likely needed to come to the one-on-one with your list of discussion points. If you’re not prepared you and your manager may not get what you need out of this meeting.

Interview (you are interviewing someone)

You are the host and a keynote, because you must prepare a list of questions, drive the discussion, and talk about how great your company is. The interviewee is also a keynote, because they will be presenting the case for themselves and spending the majority of the meeting doing that.

Agile Story Grooming

As a developer or tester, you are a panelist. You need to provide key information to ask the right questions to groom and also estimate each story.

Agile Daily Standup

You are a panelist for your daily standup. You need to prep by recalling the tasks you completed the prior day, pick your tasks for the day, and discuss any blockers or impediments.

Lunch and learn

Unless you are hosting or the presenter, then you are most likely a bystander. Someone who is going to sit back, relax, and soak up the sweet information while munching on a turkey sandwich.

Wireframe review call with the UX team

If the UX team is presenting their UX artifacts and you are soaking it in you are most likely a bystander, or a low-spectrum panelist who has a few questions or concerns about the wires.

Company Picnic

You’re a bystander ready to drink some sodas and play some volley ball.

Knowing your meeting persona

Ideally most meetings you attend you will be a panelist. Here’s the thought process there. If you find yourself as a bystander in the majority of your meetings, its likely you’re new to the company or you’re accepting too many non-critical meetings. More often you will be a panelist in meetings you’re invited to, because why else would you be invited to them. The panelist is someone who contributes actively to the discussion and is genuinely needed by others to attend. As a developer, if you find yourself as the host or keynote in a majority of your meetings you may be over extending yourself as those meetings require a lot of prep time usually. Anyways, knowing the persona you play in a meeting is the first step in managing your calendar. This is kind of a primer post for at least one more on calendar management where I describe how your meeting persona for each meeting is useful when taking control of your calendar.

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