I don’t want to add to your boredom by writing on how to make your own meetings more interesting. I want to help you change your approach and mindset to meetings you attend so you are noisy when necessary to advocate your position and develop visibility so when you speak people know it’s because you really do have something to say.
For starters, there is no such thing as just a meeting. Every meeting poses opportunities for discussion, generating ideas, producing outcomes and positioning yourself with your peers. Whether it’s a quick update or weekly requirement, the impression you make on peers can indirectly affect your raises and promotions. That means you have to prepare.
Take the case of a senior executive I’ll call Robert. He’s brilliant which is why he heads up a multi-million dollar business division at his company, but his boss says he doesn’t offer much at meetings, that he “talks to simply talk” and he “needs to understand the right time to speak and the right time to shut up.” Additionally, the boss says Robert doesn’t fully engage people below him so he appears snobbish and aloof.
Robert had a completely different take on this. He told me he doesn’t want to “show off” so most of the time he remains quiet but then feels as if he should have said something so he tries to come up with remarks on the spot which typically don’t add much to the conversation. He also said that most of the people at these meetings don’t understand the high level information he deals with so it’s easier to just sit back as opposed to trying to “dumb it down” for them. The unintended result is Robert comes across as someone who doesn’t have a strong plan and is not very interested in what others have to say. Privately, his boss told me if he doesn’t step up to the plate, his future at this company is at risk.
As Robert and I started to tackle his dilemma, something else emerged. Robert confided that he was a bit intimidated to speak up for fear of not measuring up to his boss, a charismatic impressive speaker who had the ability to deliver a “pithy” message on the spot. This was a tough one.
We began by identifying Robert’s goals which we would tackle over a period of time:
- Developing more visibility and influence
- Executing views in meetings and presentations
- Better engagement with people to advocate position
- Improve leadership skills to present vision and strategy
In our own meetings, we role-played some of his meetings and came up with the following strategies to help him develop a more dominant and influential voice.
- Don’t treat your meetings as just another meeting. Before every meeting, recognize the opportunity in advance. Will a greater understanding of the information prompt management to make a greater investment? Can you put research in perspective for those who don’t have your level of knowledge so they are engaged in your work and the conversation at hand?
- To avoid feeling like you have to come up with remarks on the spot, identify two or three things you may want to talk about in advance This way, if someone heads in that direction, you are prepared to add to the conversation or to bring up an idea that has not been discussed.
- Use open ended and clarifying questions to draw others out and help facilitate the conversation. Questions such as: “so what you are saying is” or “if I understand you correctly, you are suggesting”. Sometimes, repeating what they say in a different manner and raising a question is also helpful. Example: “So Jeff, if we continue with the current schedule you’ve outlined, does that mean we will hit our goal before the end of the year?”
- If you are expected to provide an update or status report, prepare a simple one pager that you can distribute to people at the meeting to keep you on track and help them digest the concepts. Practice your delivery out-loud before the meeting.
- Instead of comparing yourself to others or fearing you may not impress people, think of meetings as an opportunity to share information that is important for others to understand and that may help your boss and others make decisions.
- If you think of something to add while someone else is speaking, jot it down so you can add to the conversation at the appropriate time or when the person is done speaking.
Sometimes, we can walk into meetings with unfair assumptions or preconceived notions thinking we already know what people are going to say. If we tune them out or shut them down because they say something differently or don’t say what we want them to say, we can rob ourselves of opportunities to clarify, learn, and receive information differently because we failed to listen.
Adapted from “Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listeners,” by Karen Friedman (Praeger). Friedman is a professional communication coach and speaker who spent two decades as a television news reporter and anchor at major market television stations. See more at www.shutupandsaysomething.com