In addition to being time-wasters, meetings can be political mine fields, organizationally speaking. Whose side should we take in a disagreement? When should we speak our mind? When would silence be the better choice? How should we ensure that others know the contributions we make? When would it be more savvy to let others take the credit?
From a communications perspective, here are 5 ways to make a bigger impact at the meetings you attend:
Do Your Homework
Know the purpose of the meeting and the topic(s) being discussed. Determine your position (which may be to gain more information). Think about how you want to show up at the meeting -- advocate? big picture thinker? skeptic? subject matter expert? If the topic is one you do have input on, prepare how to communicate the key message you want the other attendees to hear.
Be Aware of Your Body Language
Make sure your body language communicates what you want it to as people read a great deal into what they see. Maintain eye contact both when you are speaking and when you are listening. It makes you appear interested and involved. Sit up straight instead of slouching in your chair or swiveling. Manage your facial expressions. Smile freely, as appropriate, but be careful of frowning when disapproval or confusion isn't what you intend to convey.
Listen More Than You Talk
Develop active listening skills that allow you to concentrate fully on what's being said and actively engage in the conversation even if you aren't speaking. Use "connect" words and gestures such as "OK," "I see," nods and smiles to indicate that you are involved. Refer to others' comments and perspectives when you speak demonstrating that you have indeed been listening.
Prepare questions ahead of time on the topic being discussed. Ask your questions in an open, non-threatening and non-judgemental way. Become known as the person who asks intelligent, thoughtful questions that get at the heart of the issue. If people are wallowing in the weeds, ask a strategic question to get the group thinking about the bigger picture.
When you do have a contribution to make to the discussion speak confidently and clearly. Eliminate "wimpy" words and phrases such as, "in my opinion," "maybe," "perhaps," "if it's all right with you." These undermine your credibility and make you appear tentative. Also lose the "ums" and "you knows." Not only do they compromise your message, they become distracting and annoying very quickly. Speak loudly enough that everyone can hear you particularly if your normal voice is on the soft side. Develop a couple of phrases for dealing with interruptions. For example, "...just let me finish this thought and then we can move on" or "...that's a great point and I'll come back to it in a minute."
If we are destined to spend so much of our time in meetings, isn't it worth it to develop some strategies for making them as productive as possible? And establishing your reputation for making valuable contributions and speaking confidently and on point is a happy by-product.
Wikimedia Commons/Impact of a Drop of Water C.C. 3.0