Three things that save meetings from wasting time

How do you run efficient & effective meetings?

Picture this: you’ve been sitting in a meeting room with eight other people for an hour, talking in circles about an issue that was supposed to be solved 45 minutes ago. Two of the people in the meeting are looking at Twitter because this conversation has nothing to do with them, but they have other topics that need to be discussed. No one can move forward because this decision needs to be made, but the person who can really make a decision had a conflict and left 20 minutes ago.

Sounds kinda awful, right? This isn’t a great way to get things done yet it seems a lot of meetings end up this way. Where do things go wrong? How can they be better? I’ve been told that I run pretty okay meetings (a point of pride, to be honest!) so I decided to share what works for me.

Here are 3 things I do to keep my meetings short, sweet, and effective:

Set clear goals

Meetings come in a lot of different flavors. My personal favs are exploratory meetings, full of white boarding and collaborating and problem-solving. There are also knowledge sharing meetings, like when you kick-off a new project, or bring a new team member on board. Sometimes it’s a planning meeting, making sure that everyone has a clear path forward and knows what all the next steps are.

No matter what type of meeting you’re having, make sure you know what you want each participant to get out the session. This doesn’t have to be complicated! Some good meeting goals are things like “this new team member should know who to ask for help” or “everyone can move forward on their tasks” or “the project stakeholders will understand the status of this project.” Meeting invitations are a great place to share this goal, to help make sure everyone knows why you’re meeting and to make it clear that your meeting does have a goal.

For longer, more complicated meetings is might be worthwhile to put together an agenda that has the goal and a rough outline of what needs to happen to get there.

Do as much pre-work as possible

Prepping for meetings is something that can really help move things along, but is often one of the first things in a busy day to drop off the todo list, at least for me. Pre-work in my day-to-day usually looks like opening any documents that I might need to reference, re-reading the meeting invite to make sure I understand the goal, and checking over the attendee list for any new or surprising faces. If I’m presenting something I always flip through whatever I’m speaking about to re-familiarize myself with it, especially if the presentation includes other people’s work. For bigger meetings, like workshops, pre-work should include gathering your supplies, optimizing the agenda, and reviewing any slides or whatever you’re using to guide things along.

The other side of pre-work is making sure that the other meeting participants are prepared. I have watched so many meetings fall apart because not all the right pieces are lined up to have the conversation that was the goal of the meeting. Having two people derail into a side conversation to figure something out is frustrating for everyone; the decision makers end up feeling put on the spot and everyone else feels like their time was wasted. Whatever decisions do get made end up being short-sighted and rushed. My general rule of thumb is that it’s better to have several 10-minute meetings with 1 or 2 people before a short meeting with a group of people than to have a long meeting with a group of people who get derailed and rushed. If you can, split one long meeting into a few short meetings and follow-up with the whole team through whatever tool you use to track notes.

Even small meetings need a little facilitation

How you facilitate your meeting greatly depends on the type of group you are meeting with. Sometimes meeting participants are on it and can fly through discussion topics with ease. Some groups, though… some groups just don’t mesh. It happens, the world is full of many different types of people! If meeting participants aren’t seeing eye-to-eye there are a few things I like to try.

If there’s a whiteboard available often writing notes for the group can help rein in unruly conversation. Bonus points for notes that are well structured and numbered so they are easier to reference during the discussion. Being able to say “if we go back to point two…” in the middle of a thought can really help keep everyone on the same page.

Another tactic I use a ton is echoing. This works especially well if you can identify that some meeting participants are viewing an issue from a completely different direction than other participants. Echoing back what someone says in a slightly different way is great for two reasons: it lets you know that you understand and it’s a way to help other people understand. Win-win!

There are also some more advanced meeting management techniques that I personally don’t pull out often, but they are good to have around. For instance, “taking stack” is helpful if someone is grandstanding or if some participants aren’t being heard for whatever reasons. You take stack by more formally moderating whose turn it is to speak and diligently cutting people off when they have stated their point. Depending on the group and the meeting type there are a few ways to handle questions during a meeting. For large groups (or if you’re in a room where not everyone can see everyone else) instituting a hand raising policy can help make sure everyone gets heard. More informal teams can probably do with less formal question taking systems, but keep on eye on anyone who is overly quiet. They might have something to say but don’t want to butt into someone else’s thought. I always try to explicitly ask for questions or concerns periodically during meetings to make sure there is space for quieter members of the team to chime in.

Bottom line: be respectful

If I had to boil all of this down, running a good meeting is about respect. Respect your team’s time, energy, and knowledge. Remember that different people work in different ways—which is a good thing! As a meeting facilitator, it’s your job to help people see things from each other’s perspectives and to keep the discussion on track. Setting goals, taking the time to check in with your team before and after, and practicing my facilitation skills are the best ways I’ve found to make meetings helpful and (best of all) not a waste of time!

Finding a place in tech without writing a line of code

"What if I love being in tech, but don't love writing code?"

A short while ago a student asked me “What if I love being in tech but don’t love to write code? Is there a place for me?” It reminded me that there’s this perception that developers are the most valuable people on a tech team, but building a successful product definitely takes a village. There are a ton of different things that people do in tech to help make the digital products and services that we use everyday possible. Some of the non-programming jobs focus around design and content, others are more directly linked to development like quality assurance and technical management. Having at least a high-level understanding of each is super helpful no matter where on the team you sit, so I thought it might be helpful to look at a few of the more common non-development roles.


There are two main facets of design in the tech world: visual and user experience. They are both related, and many people practice both, but there are some key differences.

Visual design is what most people think of when they meet a “designer.” It’s also called user interface designer, interaction designer, or simply web design. These designers focus on look and feel, meaning the parts of a website or product that you can see. They understand basic design principles like gestalt, typography, and color theory. Many visual designers do have degrees in design but it’s also possible to bypass school and get your experience on the job. There’s also opportunity for visual designers to work on frontend code, especially when working on smaller teams.

User experience design focuses on how and why people use websites and products. While visual designers think about color, type, and balance, experience designers think how to optimize paths a visitor may take through a website, or how to make a product easier to use. In my own experience design work, I do things like create diagrams showing how a user flows through a site and wireframes that describe the possible actions on each page. Some people in the user experience world are researchers who spend time talking to the people who use a product or site. That research helps to inform the hows and whys and makes it easier to design better things. UX is a relatively new field that is constantly growing and shifting, which is great fun for people who love to learn new things every day.

Content Strategy

If you already enjoy writing and editing then definitely look into content strategist roles. A content strategist is more than just a person who writes content for the web, though they do that too. Content strategy encompasses everything from designing the system of governance around content creation to defining the metadata and taxonomy that describes content. Content strategy is often viewed as a part of user experience design but it can really go deeper than traditional information architecture. While a UX designer might figure out how to arrange a page to deliver information most effectively, it’s a content strategist’s job to insure the information being displayed is easy to understand, has the correct tone, and meets any business or editorial goals.

Quality Assurance Engineer

QA engineers are some of the most valuable members of a development team. They test software and make sure that it’s not only functional but also that it meets all specifications. QA isn’t just about clicking through a product over and over looking for errors. QA engineers also write code that automatically tests software for bugs. While some QA engineers make whole careers out of creating systems for ensuring that software ships bug free, many choose to go on to full-time development or other related fields. It’s a great place to gain exposure to the development process without the pressure of delivering code every day.


If I had a dollar for every time someone complained to me about a poor experience with a manager I would have… well, I’d have a lot of dollars. A lot of tech companies like to promote from within the organization for management positions, which is great for people who already enjoy management-type things. But not everyone is ready to switch from making things to overseeing things which seems like a pretty common source of strife inside of design and development teams.

On the other hand, it’s tricky to find managers who already have experience in design or development. Managers without first-hand knowledge of what their employees are working on can also cause strife because they may have a harder time empathizing with or even just plain understanding the very people they are managing.

For people who have experience in management and want to learn practical skills in design or development this creates a huge opportunity! Having an understanding of the care and craft that goes into things being made by technical teams makes managing them so much easier and more effective.

There are, of course, dozens of other roles that fit inside tech that don’t require development experience. IT professionals, product managers, project managers, copywriters, investors, journalists, marketers, customer support representatives, and salespeople are all integral parts of any successful tech team. If you’re looking interested in the tech industry but find that writing code isn’t for you, don’t worry! There are so many other (super awesome) options. Check ‘em out!

Coincidentally there is an event later this week hosted by eBay here in Portland about this very topic! You can learn more and RSVP the Eventbrite page or through ChickTech Portland. Find me and say hi if you go!

Accessible HTML video as a background

It’s always important to keep in mind that just because a design fad works for one site doesn’t mean it will work for all sites. Background video is a great example of when it’s probably best to not blindly follow a design trend. There are several important accessibility considerations to think about before throwing content over a video and this article (plus the comments) does a great job breaking them down.

Accessible HTML video as a background

It’s always important to keep in mind that just because a design fad works for one site doesn’t mean it will work for all sites. Background video is a great example of when it’s probably best to not blindly follow a design trend. There are several important accessibility considerations to think about before throwing content over a video and this article (plus the comments) does a great job breaking them down.

Happy Monday

Lovely watercolor by Natalia Tyulkina

Lovely watercolor by Natalia Tyulkina

Monday, Monday, Monday, here you are again! Last week was unexpectedly busy at work (hello 12 hour days! It’s been a while!) hence the quiet couple of days. Luckily my weekend was slow and peaceful, the perfect breather after a super busy week! I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to tackle whatever is in store for this week. How about some good links to get the day going?

  • Apple finally announced a smart watch! It’s definitely interesting, from an industry point of view, but I’ll personally be passing on this version. This piece does a great job of voicing my own issues with the new device. It all boils down to this: the Apple Watch feels like a computer you happen wear on your wrist, not a watch that happens to check my email.
  • Use Your Interface is hands-down the best gif-based interface collection around. Definitely check it out if you haven’t come across it before!
  • Need some designy retail therapy to really get Monday going? I love this charming (and appropriately named!) script font Monday. Check out those pretty loops, swashes, and ligatures!

Bright Simple Deco

Bright Simple Deco nail art on Miss Venn

Okay okay you have to get some nail vinyls if you haven’t seen them before. Really! Nail art necessity! I get my vinyls from for a few reasons. First of all, the owner Linda is a lovely person who seems to really enjoy what she does. Love it! Also her nail vinyls have always been super high quality. And they come in tons of shapes! If I haven’t convinced you yet I don’t know what will.

This manicure was made with the right angle vinyls which I hadn’t used before. It took a bit of work (and my non-dominant hand looks, uh, iffy) but I think it’s worth it in the end!

Bright Simple Deco nail art on Miss Venn with Butter London Cuppa and Slapper, plus nail vinyls from

Voice vs. Tone

Voice vs. Tone

I picked up Nicely Said a few weeks ago and am seriously loving it. It focuses on writing for the web and covers everything from writing for communities to making interface elements easy to understand. Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee make everything super approachable with common sense advice and reusable patterns. Basically, it’s great! The chapter on defining a writing style has been extra helpful since I’m starting to write here more often. This quote about voice vs. tone stood out especially; I’ve never really considered the difference and have probably used them wrong in the past. Now I know!

I’ll be sharing more quotes and things I’ve learned in a few weeks, once I finish reading. In the meantime, you should pick up your own copy and let me know what you think!

Happy Monday

Welcome to a new week! Start your Monday with some good reads:

An experience designer’s desk

I’m officially a member of the R/GA team this week, yay! I’ve spent my days this week reading lots of documentation and trying to get up to speed on complicated projects. I love seeing how other designers solve problems!

Starting a new job made me sit back and thinking about what essentials I’ll need in my new desk. The basics are all here: a notebook, pencils, sticky notes, mug for tea, a cute calendar, and a solid ruler. I’m so sad that this Rifle Paper Co. calendar doesn’t start until 2015 though! It would be perfect to add a little art to my space since I don’t have a wall to hang things on.

An experience designers desk: a solid notebook, pretty pencils, tons of stickies, a motivational mug, a cute calendar, and a stylish ruler.

1. Leuchtturm1917 notebook2. Letter C Design pencils / 3. Super sticky Post-It Notes pack4. Click and Blossom Stuff Done mug / 5. Rifle Paper Co. Monarch Flip Calendar6. Paper Source Mint Ruler

What essentials go in your desk?