Surviving a standards meeting

I have noticed recently that attendance continues to increase at each standards meeting I attend. First-time participants in these meetings are usually easy to identify. They`re the ones with the deer-in-the-headlights look, sitting quietly and seldom speaking. I know what it feels like, because I--just like everybody else--was once a first-timer. In fact, I still feel like a first-timer in many respects.

Sep 1st, 1999

Surviving a standards meeting

Preparation, packing, and Palm Pilots can make standards meetings painless pleasure.

Herb Congdon

Siecor

I have noticed recently that attendance continues to increase at each standards meeting I attend. First-time participants in these meetings are usually easy to identify. They`re the ones with the deer-in-the-headlights look, sitting quietly and seldom speaking. I know what it feels like, because I--just like everybody else--was once a first-timer. In fact, I still feel like a first-timer in many respects.

The first meeting I attended was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. There I was, relatively young compared to most attendees, in a room full of experienced industry experts. Several meetings passed before I learned how the process worked and felt comfortable raising my hand to speak.

So, in an effort to ease a new attendee into a standards body and share some tricks for the seasoned member, I offer the following advice, which might make for a more enjoyable experience for you and those attending with you.

Choosing a standards body

Before you attend a standards meeting, spend some time carefully identifying the standards group that will benefit from your attendance. There are a lot of groups out there, and many have such intimidating identifiers as iso/iec jtc-1/sc-25/wg-3. The group`s title will probably not be much friendlier; for example, what exactly do you think "Customer-owned Outside Plant" would cover? You won`t want to travel across the country, only to find out that the meeting covers residential landscaping instead of telecommunications cabling.

But in many cases, it is easy to identify a group, its scope, and the name of the group chairperson through Web sites or host organizations, such as the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA--Arlington, VA) or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI--New York City). If you have questions about exactly what the group does, contact the chairperson and ask. Also, make sure you`ve paid your dues, clearing the way for your participation. But watch out, because some standards groups can be rather expensive--with annual dues up to $10,000.

Once you have identified the correct group, get the meeting locations and dates. Most groups establish this information months in advance. When you get the meeting information, plan in advance. Get your airline tickets well in advance to save money, and consider staying in the meeting city for a Saturday night. Don`t wait to make the hotel reservations because sometimes they sell out quickly. Don`t forget to reserve a rental car.

One of the best ways to prepare for the actual meeting is to get a copy of the meeting agenda and the minutes from the previous meeting. Reading the agenda may save you a trip if the group will not discuss the item that particularly interests you. Read the minutes before you get to the meeting; few people enjoy rehashing old information to bring others up to speed.

Also, before your trip, spend time collecting and organizing the documents and contributions for the upcoming meeting. Note, however, that this may be quite a lot of paper. If you are planning to present to the gathering, prepare your document early and bring plenty of copies. As a rule of thumb, determine how many copies you will need, and bring more than that number. Some presenters prefer to make copies when they arrive at the meeting site, but hotel copy services are typically limited and expensive, and many copying-service companies close on weekends.

Try to follow protocol

Become familiar with the procedures and routines of formal meetings. Basically, you are safe with the traditional behavior codes addressed in publications such as Robert`s Rules of Order. However, you will find a wide range of applications of these rules, from strict to informal, from group to group. When in doubt, the safest approach is to politely request the floor from the chairperson, which you can usually do by raising your hand. When recognized, state your comment in a succinct and articulate manner. It usually helps to stand, face the main body, and speak loudly. If a microphone is offered, take advantage of it.

Generally, you should refrain from voicing opinions or other personal thoughts; limit these to offline conversations. Try to stick to factual comments. Also, try to present your information so that it either requires an action (as in the case of making a proposal) or supports one side of an existing proposal. Respect others` opportunities to speak. If you must converse, try to step outside so you will not distract others from the proceedings.

If you plan to present, it is always a good idea to let the chairperson know in advance, especially if you have any special requests such as audio/visual equipment. The chairperson may want to set aside some time in the meeting to accommodate your contribution and assign a contribution number that you can print on your distribution copies.

Here is a list of techniques that I have found make a standards trip enjoyable:

Before leaving, check travel Web sites for information on your destination. There might be an interesting event or attraction in the area. You can also check on the expected weather for the area, and pack accordingly.

Try to adhere to the dress code, which can vary among organizations. Usually, business casual wear is acceptable. But to be safe, wear business attire the first day. One trick: Wear a white or light-colored shirt or blouse, which will help the chairperson see you when you raise your hand.

Get there early. The good seats--those close to an outlet--will fill fast.

Bring your laptop computer. You will fit in better, because everyone does it. And you will catch up on some work when the business turns to topics that don`t interest you.

If you bring your laptop, don`t forget your laptop cord. They haven`t yet invented a laptop battery that can outlast a standards meeting. If you have a grounded plug, also bring a three-to-two-prong adapter.

Bring an extension cord with multiple outlets. There are never enough outlets in any meeting room, and rarely are the outlets placed conveniently. Besides, you can be a hero to two or three other attendees who are not as prepared as you are.

Bring a heavy-duty briefcase or satchel to collect papers. You will need to bring in your documents and carry out those distributed during the meeting. Despite the advances in electronic media, the standards world still revolves around hard copies.

Finally, network. Talk to the people sitting next to you. Introduce yourself to the chairperson. One of the advantages of attending is the opportunity to meet people who share your interests. Make friends. Most people who attend standards meetings are intelligent, experienced, and more dedicated than the average employee--just like you.

For the most part, getting involved in a standards body can be rewarding on many levels. Becoming familiar with the intricacies of each group will take a little bit of time, but hopefully this information will help you get the most out of each meeting. Happy standardizing.

Herb Congdon is supervisor of applications engineering at Siecor (Hickory, NC) and is a member of several standards-making bodies.

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