Successful meetings: making yourself more visible (part 4)

Meetings in the workplace are often unjustly criticised: at worst, badly run team get-togethers are a time-wasting drain on productivity and profits; at best, a necessary evil of the corporate world. But we’d like you to consider how a meeting in your workplace could also be a huge opportunity. An opportunity to change widespread thinking about you (from passive to active, a solo performer to a collaborator, a dependable pair of hands to future leadership material); to make yourself more visible before senior figures; to demonstrate to your boss or colleagues that you’ve listened to their feedback; to have your views heard and effect change; to bolster your working relationships; to reinforce your personal brand. Despite the many opportunities that increasing your visibility can bring about, study after study shows that women in particular – regardless of rank or job title – have difficulty inserting themselves into discussions. Time to throw off the meeting cloak of invisibility and seize the opportunity to propel yourself forward. Visit the previous editions in the successful meetings series: Part I: It’s all in the preparation Part II: Taking the chair Part III: Dealing with challenging participants  

1. Understand your role

Unless you’re the meeting organiser, you might not have a clear idea of exactly what’s expected of you in the session. If that’s the case, get clear – and fast. Read the agenda for clues as to your role or speak to the chair or their PA to find out what would be most helpful from you. If these tactics don’t yield results, you’re not let off: assume that you are expected to participate. Study the agenda and try to identify what the chair’s objective is in calling the meeting. How can you help enable that? With new ideas? A positive outlook? Prepared data or research?  

2. Prepare  – and set yourself a goal

Once you know the key discussion points, make sure you have at least three contributions to put forward, and be prepared to back them up with compelling arguments. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll put forward all of your pre-prepared ideas – and as early into the session as possible. Studies, executive coaches and business leaders are united on this point: there is huge benefit in speaking early on in the meeting. The longer you wait, the more chance there is of self doubt creeping in, of someone else raising your point, or of focus and listening levels falling among your audience (studies show that access to technology has resulted in plummeting concentration levels – if that resonates with you, practise mindfulness to stay present during get-togethers).  

3. Flex your vocabulary with active words and authoritative statements

When you speak is important, but how you make your points, is the real acid test. If you have an original idea, take ownership of it (instead of a tentative “How about…?”, assert your opinion: “I strongly suggest…” or “I recommend…”). When supporting colleagues, building on their ideas (“That’s absolutely right, and here’s why…”) packs so much more punch than “I tend to agree”. To move an idea on the table to action, “Let’s do this…” or “Here is my plan…” is a much stronger driver than “Maybe we could…?” or “What if…?”   There has recently been a whole raft of discussions around the limiting factors of certain words. “Sorry” is one that’s come under fire (“I’m sorry but I don’t think that will work…”); “just” is another (“I just think that…”). Filler words can also have a weakening affect on your arguments – work hard on limiting your “ums”, “ahs” and “likes” if you want your core message to resonate loudly and clearly. You’ll find some great tips in our Powerful workplace communication workbook.  

4. Challenge yourself to be spontaneous

Once you’ve landed your prepared points, don’t just sit back thinking it’s job done. You may have been in a situation where you’ve conceived an idea on the spur of the moment, but shied away from putting it out there, only for a colleague to receive nods all round when he or she shares the same thought. If you know this happens to you, set yourself a goal of communicating at least one thought or idea as it occurs to you. It doesn’t need to be fully fleshed out and it may not always get a rapturous response, but taking the platform to air your voice can be a great confidence booster and sets you in the frame of actively engaging in the conversation.  

5. Testing the waters

If shyness strikes then getting out your points – whether prepared or spontaneous – might feel like an overwhelming challenge. And the longer your silence continues, the harder it can be to break. Ease yourself into the feeling of projecting your voice into the room – greet colleagues as they enter and make small talk as you’re waiting for the meeting to get going. Ask questions and agree with colleagues’ points to get a feel for what speaking up feels like as you prepare to contribute in a more meaningful way.  

6. Watch your body language

If you’re lacking confidence, agreeing when you don’t mean it or being deferential to a more senior figure, your body language may well give you away. A three-minute power pose before the meeting can stir up a confidence-inspiring cocktail of hormones. Be conscious of slumping, poor eye contact or fidgeting, correcting as you notice.  

7. Take ownership

When it’s time to assign individuals action points, put your hand up early for those that most interest you and where you believe you can add the most value. Taking the initiative may also mean you’re less likely to be saddled with those you least want on your to-do list. Think strategically too: which tasks are more likely to get you noticed by decision makers, open doors or build relationships?  

8. Find meeting mentors

Take note when you find yourself in the presence of someone whose meeting behaviour you admire. Mentally observe how they enter a room and greet colleagues, when they first speak up, their body language, the vocabulary they use to make their points, how they respond to others and what roles they take on during the course of the session – idea generator, arbitrator, diplomat, challenger, negotiator? As you begin to authentically channel these behaviours in line with your own personal brand, you may find it helpful to seek on-going feedback from a manager or colleague. This concludes our four-part series on successful meetings. If there’s an essential workplace skill you’d like to see covered in our next article series, let us know in the comments below or use the ‘Ask a question’ tab.