In other words, you have to stay alert and pay attention.
This is even more true if the meeting isn’t in your native language.
If you’re still learning business English, it can be hard to catch everything that’s being said.
Because of that, it’s really important to know exactly what you should be listening for.
I recently read a funny article about how to look smart in meetings.
At first, I thought it was advice for people who had to go to difficult meetings or meetings in a foreign language.
“Very slowly repeat things other people say” or “Keep nodding and pretend to take notes” seems like advice people learning business English might get.
The article is actually joking about things some people do to look smart or like they’re paying attention.
If you know that the writer is joking, some of the advice makes more sense.
But thanks to this article, I started thinking about things people really can do to understand information in meetings. Especially if they’re nervous about their business English listening skills.
I thought about my own experiences in business meetings, including those when I had to listen in a second language.
Below are some approaches you can take to business English listening. You can use a certain approach depending on what it is you need to understand.
The right approach will help you get the information you need.
Try one of these out in your next meeting!
3 English Listening Approaches to Get You Through Challenging Business Meetings
1. Getting the Gist of a Meeting
For some meetings, it might be enough to just “get the gist.” “Getting the gist” means to have a basic understanding of something.
At some meetings, presentations, receptions and business lunches, a basic understanding is enough. There are a few techniques you can use to make this easier.
Reviewing the agenda and materials before the meeting is the best way to prepare. Sometimes, just reviewing the agenda can give you the basic understanding you need. It can also help you know what to listen for.
It is also good to keep focused on the topic you need to know about. At some meetings, discussions can go off-topic. Staying focused on the main point of the meeting can help you understand it better.
There are many chances to ask questions during a meeting. But if you have very general questions or just want to make sure you understand something, it is a good idea to ask questions during breaks.
It can also be helpful to notice when speakers repeat information. Any information that’s repeated can be considered important.
Taking Notes to Get the Gist of a Meeting
If you only need a simple understanding of a meeting, I would suggest taking notes on the agenda page or the meeting’s paperwork. If you don’t need a lot of details, agendas will give you a basic outline for your notes.
Keywords and Phrases for Getting the Gist of a Meeting
Here are some keywords you might hear before the topic or main idea:
- In general…
- The purpose of this meeting…
- As an overview…
- To review…
2. Listening for Specific Information
Sometimes we attend meetings to get some specific information. We can use the above approach to follow the meeting in general. But there may be specific facts that you need to catch, too. This may come up when you are in a meeting, training or even when taking a test.
One great way to catch specific information is to listen for certain words. For example, if you need to find out about the cost for transportation, you can pay attention for words related to that. In this case, you can focus on words like:
It also helps to study the agenda. That way, you can follow along and know when the things you need to know will be discussed.
You should also know that you don’t have to wait for the information you need to be presented. It can be very helpful to everyone at a meeting if you directly ask for the information you need.
This technique can be especially helpful if you are in an open-style meeting. This way, you can get your information and then exit the meeting without wasting too much time.
Another quick way to get specific information is to look at charts or graphs that come up during the meeting. If you are looking for data, it will be there. Often, the best time to take notes is when the speaker begins explaining the graphs and data. The information you need might be in the graphs, or you can use the graphs to ask very specific questions.
Taking Notes About Specific Information in a Meeting
There are a few note-taking techniques that are useful when looking for specific information.
One way is to prepare your notes before the meeting. List the information you need or questions you have on the paper, leaving some space for the answers.
Another great note-taking technique is to highlight the information you need on the meeting paperwork.
You can then write additional notes for any new information that comes up.
Keywords for Getting Specific Information in a Meeting
Some keywords you can listen for when looking for specific information include numbers, prices or other data. It’s also helpful to listen for words related to your questions. If you prepared notes and listen for answers, they will be easy to catch.
Using the meeting agenda here will also help you. Some of the specific information you need may be related to a certain section of the meeting. The meeting paperwork will help you focus on which graph, chart or picture will be used to show that data. When there are many different speakers, the agenda will help you focus on the person who will be discussing your topic.
Some useful keywords for getting specific information are:
- page number
3. Listening and Understanding Fully with Details
There are times when you might need to understand as much of the meeting as possible. Some events where this might happen are:
- smaller meetings
- a meeting in which you are one of the main speakers
- a “roundtable” discussion (a meeting in which everyone is expected to talk and work together)
- an interview
- conference calls (group phone calls)
The most important thing you can do to understand a meeting fully is to be prepared. Many people walk into a meeting unprepared.
But it is always a good idea to review the paperwork before the meeting and have a list of questions you want to have answered. Try hard to know the agenda and have a copy of it in front of you.
It’s also good to stay “engaged.” By this, I mean to be a part of the meeting. You can do this by asking questions, making comments and making eye contact with other people.
When you want to understand, ask the speaker to repeat information. Or say the information yourself and ask “Is that correct?” or “Is that right?”
Also, ask any questions in your notes that the speaker didn’t talk about. Often, other people in the meeting will be happy that you asked.
Another great way to stay “engaged” is to ask other people in the meeting to check your understanding. They will probably be glad to check for themselves, too. You can use meeting breaks to talk to the speaker or other people in an unofficial way.
Taking Notes to Understand a Meeting Fully
When you really need to understand an entire meeting, you can use some techniques that students use in classes and lectures. One of the main techniques for taking notes is called “Cornell notes.” It was developed by a professor at Cornell University. You can read detailed information about it here. There’s also an explanation in simple English on James Madison University’s website.
Even without the explanations above, it is very easy to understand and do:
- Draw a vertical line about ⅓ of the way from the left side of the paper. Now you have a thin space to write in on the left, and a big space on the right.
- Next, draw a horizontal line near the bottom of the paper and make a space. The space at the bottom is used after the meeting to write a short summary of important points.
The space at the top is the part you use during the meeting. The thin space on the left is used to show topics and keywords that come up. Often, that part will look a lot like the basic agenda. The bigger section on the right side is for your notes. This lets you divide your notes by section and really be organized during the meeting.
Keywords for Understanding a Meeting Fully
Listening carefully, taking notes and staying involved in the discussion can be more important than individual keywords. However, it can be very useful to listen for keywords that show information is being repeated, or when a speaker does his or her conclusion.
Some keywords and phrases to listen for are:
- For example…
- To illustrate…
- In summary…
- To sum up…
- In conclusion…
- To give an outline of this…
- In other words…
- In brief…
- To put it another way…
- As was mentioned earlier…
- You may recall…
- To reiterate (“reiterate” just means to say something again)…
Lastly, the best thing you can do in a meeting is to ask questions.
The whole point of a meeting is to make sure that everybody understands everything.
So any question you think of is a good question.
Besides, you might be helping other people out as well!
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