Six tips for getting the most from your meetings

Any company director or owner will tell you that meetings are part and parcel of running a business. Love them or hate them, you cannot avoid them.

As Paul Axtell, author of Meetings Matter, wrote: “Meetings are at the heart of an effective organisation, and each meeting is an opportunity to clarify issues, set new directions, sharpen focus, create alignment, and move objectives forward.”

So given that we need to run or attend meetings, how can we make them as effective as possible for all concerned? How can we ensure optimum communication skills and a greater presence from everyone in the room?

effective communication and presence in meetings

Importance of greater presence and effective communication in meetings

We’re not focusing here on the nuts and bolts of correctly setting the agenda, remembering to invite the attendees and making sure there is water in the room.

As public speaking and presentation trainers, we’re turning the spotlight on the attendees themselves and how to get them – your team – to perform at their best so you get the optimum outcome from any meeting.

Because being good at presenting and expressing a point of view – in other words, communicating – is just as important during a meeting as it is when standing up in front of an audience.

Why a meeting’s results might be skewed

Imagine this common scenario: half-a-dozen or so people are in a meeting, and various topics are being covered, all of which are important to the business. Decisions need to be made.

In the room is one person who says little or nothing; there is another who speaks up but only to echo others’ ideas, not to present their own; and there is a dominant speaker who isn’t shy about putting across his or her point of view. The wallflower, the ‘yes’ person, and the steamroller.

The outcome? We can’t be certain but there’s a fair chance the steamroller’s views will predominate, and this is a shame and invariably unproductive.

Of course, we are exaggerating to prove a point, which is this: without communications skills training, how can any of those common types effectively get across their points of view, experiences, knowledge, or even opinions? And if they can’t, important decisions may be skewed.

If, among your team, you have people with all the right knowledge, experience and skills who are then unable to effectively participate in a meeting, then their talents aren’t being fully utilised.

Ideas lead to innovation. From all-round participation and debate, the best ideas are often born.

Six ways to improve communication in meetings

  1. Make sure that you have prepared your knowledge/experience input to ensure you are confident to get involved in the discussion, and back up your points if required. The more preparation, the more chance you will have to avoid someone disagreeing with you making you shrink into your seat.
  2. Be brave. You may have employees who worry about confrontation. Confrontation need not be negative. It is an opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions and to debate, and the ultimate decisions will be all the more sound for it.
  3. Actively listen (paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues, and providing eye contact to show that you are listening). Communication is a two-way process and listening is as important as speaking. It will help you better understand and communicate, resulting in either you learning or understanding what you need to say next to help the others learn
  4. When you are speaking, body language is just as important as verbal communication, so be conscious what message you are sending with your body language
    1. Are you slouching in your chair?
    2. Are you making eye contact with everyone?
    3. Are your arms crossed defensively?
    4. Stand (or sit) tall, look engaged by leaning slightly forward, and take up space by putting your arms on the table rather than huddling them to your body
  5. Have value and belief in your ideas and deliver them with conviction rather than hesitation. The energy in your voice can give clues to the message you are sending (confidence, positive/negative message, voice inflections to emphasise points). So be mindful of the feeling that your tone of voice is delivering. Deliver it with the passion, enthusiasm, and conviction that you would want to hear it.
  6. Have sponsors (or volunteer to be a sponsor) for tasks required at the end of the meeting, otherwise the discussion will not actually lead onto anything, which would leave a feeling of futility about this and future meetings.

Some people really struggle to get over the initial hurdle of getting involved in the discussion, especially if there are strong characters within the meeting. Just because someone is a strong character, it does not mean that they actually want the meeting’s outcome to be sub-optimum, so would not only prefer everyone’s confident involvement, but actually respect them for it.

During our training courses (or sections of internal training content) on effective communication and presence in meetings, we have covered various silly ideas to enable people to get over that initial involvement brick wall, and this then enables them to keep going throughout:

  • Try to be an early speaker - This gives that feeling of confidence from the outset, and avoids the risk of someone else saying what you intended to say first and putting you on the back foot
  • Ask questions – this means your voice and presence is now in the room, without the pressure of you being the one making the points, and then you can feed off that and become more pro-actively involved in the conversations
  • Set a target of the minimum number of times you want to speak in this meeting. This may sound daft, but it is a fun way to help push you to get involved
  • Support your arguments - If you are in a meeting with “difficult” people, always make sure that you have statistics, facts and other documents to support your claims and statements. If someone questions what you are presenting, respond with grace and professionalism, showing him or her your supporting documents.

To find out more about our training for effective meetings, please get in touch. Our training includes inhouse courses, open courses, for groups or one-to-one and is CPD accredited.

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