Are you a dud in meetings?

For too many years to be proud of I just didn’t know how to perform in the strange beast known as ‘the meeting’. What I did notice, though, whether right or wrong, fair or not, was that performance in meetings appeared to be a proxy for career progression. Even at the very least, it was a factor relevant to promotion.

It makes sense when you think about it. Meetings are a common stage where, more often than not, you are on show in front of colleagues from multiple departments and seniorities. Your ability to effectively communicate is judged. You can either fill your colleagues with confidence in you, or drain it. So, leaving a consistent positive impression in meetings is a key factor in building and maintaining a positive reputation.

I understood this as a young professional, but it still took me years and mistakes to master it. Ironically, now as being a telecom engineer in my organisation’s meetings, I see younger colleagues trying as hard as I once did to make that positive mark. It reinforces that I should discuss the five core behaviours I have come to understand make people more effective in meetings.

1. Key messages
Work on the principle that time is limited. All too often, hard-working people deliver a level of detail that ultimately requires the Chair to abruptly cut them off mid-stream.

Remember, in the first instance, less is more.

In preparation, define the key messages you wish to deliver and aim to provide just enough detail at the meeting to prompt reasonable questions – that is your opportunity to then provide that little bit more information to showcase your knowledge.

2. Certainty and confidence
As a senior leader, or as a Chair of a meeting, you don’t value surprises. As a participant always be direct and certain in your commentary. The minute colleagues sense doubt they will begin to second-guess even the issues you are confident about.

If asked a question that you have no capacity to answer at the time, take it on notice and assure the relevant colleagues that your response will follow soon after the meeting.

Certainty and confidence stem from your preparation. Too often great operators neglect their homework, creating the perception of uncertainty in a meeting.
3. Don’t compete
All too often colleagues enter an unofficial competition to outdo the other. Do not enter this game. Focus on your key messages, enter appropriate debates on issues and rise above any obvious petty competitiveness or politics. While competing might be tempting, your capacity to stay professional and objective during those moments will win you the long game – the only game worth winning.

4. Timing
If you speak too early on particular topics, the whole tone of the conversation may change and you may feel a need to re-enter to clarify your comments. Avoid this. It will damage your credibility.

I am going to repeat what I know you will have heard many times before: timing is everything. You know the situation: everyone in the meeting is offering their opinion on a particular issue, each focused on being heard – there is a lot of noise but little substance.

This is why timing what you have to say towards the end of the dialogue is a smart move. By doing so you will have a clearer understanding of all the issues and perspectives, placing you in the best position to either provide a better informed contribution or formulate a potentially useful closing to the matter.

Remember, if you have nothing to say on a particular matter, say nothing. It will set you apart from the serial over-talker.

5. Body language
There has been much written about the multiple impacts body language can have. From my experience, the most effective body language is the positive type.

Never underestimate the power of the nod.

Here's the situation: someone in the meeting is delivering an important message that you agree with. Try this, wait for eye contact, nod in agreement, and study that person throughout the ensuing conversation. They will more than likely keep looking back at you for reassurance. Others in the meeting will notice and likely presume this is a measure of your influence. In spite of the competitive world we have created for each other, most human beings seek recognition and reassurance – you can count on that. Don’t overdo it, though - colleagues may question your authenticity. Express it when you mean it.

I hope these tips will help you take a little less time than I did to work out how to make the right impression in meetings!


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