I lead a team of engineers who manage and build multiple products. I frequently attend meetings that require me to speak about these products, how they are used and make decisions regarding our changing environments. Over the years, I learned how to participate in meetings with engineers, business partners and/or senior leaders in ways that facilitate information sharing and decision making. After being asked how I do this, I compiled a list of do’s and a single don’t that serve me well.
- Display Confidence – This includes two parts. 1) Speak clearly and with volume, you should not have to repeat yourself unless it is to clarify or solidify a point you are making. 2) Keep a posture with shoulders back and chest open. This expansive pose promotes feelings of self-assurance and expression.
- Set Expectations – Before the meeting starts understand what you want to get out of it. This could be information sharing, getting partner buy-in, identifying risks, etc. When you know what you want, it is easier to find the words that elicit supporting actions. If you are the organizer of the meeting, create an agenda that anchors your intentions.
- Expand Vocabulary – Being articulate distinguishes you. Have a variety of words at your disposal which can express the point you are making exactly. To do this, read and listen. Read material on the subject being discussed but also read in general. Every author has his own voice and you may find one who resonates with you and from whom you can learn. Listen to people who you feel communicate clearly. Pay attention to how they structure and share their thoughts.
- Call in the Experts – If the topic is complex for you, bring in your supporting cast. Experts often feel passionate about their work and will gladly convey the finer points – just be ready to translate into laymen’s terms when needed.
- Mirror Others – Use words other meeting attendees are using. This shows you are on the same page as other participants and sustains engagement by sharing a common language.
- Know the Audience – Speak to your audience. Stay high level when speaking to middle and upper management, but explore the nuts and bolts when speaking to developers. If you are meeting with customers or partners, frame the discussion with consideration for their vision and purpose.
- Do Pre-work – Review notes you have on any previous conversations regarding the topic. Familiarize yourself with associated acronyms and terms. Prepare updates on any previously assigned action items that you or your team are responsible for.
- Ask Questions – When you are pulled into impromptu meetings and you are unable to do pre-work, ask open ended questions. Then use the mirroring technique in your later responses. If you are really uncomfortable with the subject matter, be honest that you need time to research or that you need an expert in the meeting with you. If you are asking for more time, explain what you plan to accomplish and how much time you think it will take.
- Be Authentic – This is the most important Do. Always be genuine in your business interactions. This is foundational to people viewing you as secure. If business partners do not see you as stable, they will not respect you nor will they want to be your business partner for long.
- Get Distracted – Put the phone away, turn off email, close the door…whatever it takes to stay focused. A saying I often use is, “where focus goes, energy flows.” It is easy to recognize when a person’s focus is scattered. Others will take advantage of this to drive their own agenda and any objectives you hoped to achieve through the meeting will likely be lost.
About 90% of my day is in conference calls. I work in an highly virtual organization and seldom meet people for face-to-face meetings. My recommendations are framed by that context, but I believe they apply for any meeting type.
If you know additional tips that help you, please share in the comments below!