Fifteen Techniques to Maximize Your Personal Effectiveness During Meetings

company meeting of executives

by Roger Reid

Like them or not, meetings are the life-blood of the corporation. Often prompted by little more than a desire to “get everyone together,” spontaneous meetings have become an accepted part of the work day. Whether it’s implementing a new organizational process or procedure, a strategy session, dissecting a team report, goal setting, policy changes, introducing new employees, or disseminating information, a meeting is still the preferred method to accomplish the task. I know of several companies with a standing schedule of a one-hour meeting every Friday morning to discuss whatever topic may be on the minds of the employees. Literally, this is a meeting to discuss anything, with no planned agenda or subject.

The biggest challenge with any meeting is to make it as productive as possible. And while a great deal of attention has been focused on a leader’s responsibility to create a positive group dynamic, there are many ways in which you can influence the tone and ultimate outcome of any meeting—even when you are not the main presenter or speaker.

The key is to realize that what people think of you—your overall impression—is used as a default filter to evaluate what you say, affecting both your credibility and influence. Take control of your ability to impress and persuade others with a few simple techniques.

  1. Match eye contact with whoever is speaking. Constant eye contact is as bad as never looking directly at the speaker. Balance your “eyes on” time with the occasional head nod as you look at your notes.
  2. Practice your smile, and make sure it appears authentic. While that may sound like an oxymoron, keep in mind that a smile makes a huge impact on first impressions. It sends a message, saying you’re listening and engaged in the moment. It’s a powerful reverse feedback device, so use it to your advantage.
  3. Remember everyone’s name. Jot them down at the beginning of the meeting. If you can’t remember or didn’t hear a name, ask them to repeat it.
  4. Don’t hesitate to use “small talk.” It allows communication to begin without the risk of exposing the substance of your contribution too soon. If you need to start the ball rolling, ask, “How’s your day going—on a scale of one to ten?” Whatever the answer, say, “Let’s see if we can move that to a higher number.”
  5. Know what you want others to take away from both the meeting, and from meeting you. These are often not the same thing. Your goal is to leave others with a positive impression after interacting with you—to insure they continue to be receptive to future communication and business. Have an agenda, but keep it flexible and if you receive resistance, don’t push back in a retaliatory effort to make your point.
  6. Test the timing. What’s the mood of the decision-makers? How receptive are they to listening to others? Do they seem rushed, distracted, or pre-occupied? Rather than risk an automatic “No” to your pitch or suggestion—because the decision-makers are overwhelmed with other business or personal matters—hold off on important presentations until you have a more receptive audience.
  7. Pace subtle aspects of body language of the person speaking. This helps to establish subliminal rapport with everyone who is in agreement with what is being said.
  8. Avoid over-the-top clothing or mega-expensive accessories. This is anything that diverts attention away from you and toward your possessions. People want to do business with those who make wise financial decisions. While you may impress a few people with a $10,000 Rolex, the majority of the wealthy and successful will not only question how you manage your money, but how you would manage their money as well.
  9. Be five minutes early. If you don’t want to appear overly anxious or you need to prevent any pre-meeting conversation that could lessen your leverage, arrive early and wait in the car or rest room, then walk through the door exactly on time.
  10. Eliminate “up-talk.” It’s become an epidemic. Also called “up-speak,” it’s a vocal rise at the end of a declarative sentence. Studies show 70% of the population find it annoying and will judge you less intelligent or credible for doing it.
  11. Adhere to the 80/20 rule: Listen 80 percent of the time, talk 20 percent. If there are more than three people in the meeting, reduce your speaking time to 10 percent.
  12. Pace the last speaker. When replying to the last person speaking, match his or her rate of speech for the first two sentences, then move to your own usual speed.
  13. Avoid interrupting. Interruptions are rude, unprofessional, degrading, and disrespectful. Wait for a silent count of “two” before speaking.
  14. Ask questions. “Do you have the details on that? What’s the down-side (or up-side) of the picture? How did you handle that situation?”
  15. Never give your cell phone priority during a meeting. You agreed to meet for a reason. Don’t make others feel like you regret your decision.