BE A “PRO” COMMUNICATOR
In most organizations, meetings of all types consume an excessive amount of everyone’s time and energy. Your challenge is to maximize your own effectiveness as a participant in meetings and to contribute to their overall productivity as best you can. When you are in a position to convene and chair meetings yourself, you will be able to maximize their usefulness and minimize the amount of time wasted by them.
Meetings should be held as sparingly as possible. If there is any doubt about the need for a meeting, do not hold it. Meetings are unquestionably the number one time-waster at organizations throughout the world.
Here are some ground rules that apply to all business meetings:
When you are attending a meeting, follow these practices:
One of the best ways to stand out from your peers is to take an active role in participating in the meetings you attend. Rather than just sitting there passively, ask yourself, “What can I do or say that will add greater value to the discussion and improve the quality of the decisions being made?” Avoid grandstanding when you do so.
If you want to meet with someone, it is best to go to their office to do so as opposed to asking them to come to your office. If it is impossible to have a private discussion in their office or work area, pick a neutral private office or room to do so.
When someone such as your supervisor or a customer asks you to a meeting, follow their lead in whether you take off your jacket and have something to drink if it is offered. If more than two of you are attending the meeting, try to pick the most centrally located chair opposite your supervisor or the customer but do not sit down until he or she does so.
Whenever assignments are being given to you or you are being asked to participate in a project, make certain you clearly understand what you are being asked to do. If there is any ambiguity or uncertainty in your mind, do not hesitate to ask for clarification. Often, it is a good idea for you to ask if you can give your understanding of what was said. Then, paraphrase back in your own words the instructions given to you, the expectations your superior has performance-wise, and the deadlines involved. This way any misunderstandings can be avoided.
If someone in your organization is coming to your office and you only want to hold a brief meeting, come out from behind your desk and remain standing when the other person arrives. This will signal that you want to have a short discussion so the two of you can resume working afterwards.
When you are having a sit-down meeting in your office, come out from behind your desk and sit in a chair facing the person with whom you are meeting. This will improve the chances of having an open, constructive discussion.
If someone from outside your office is coming to meet with you, either go to the reception area yourself to greet your visitor or ask someone to escort that person to your office or the meeting room. Whenever a guest comes to your office, get up and walk around your desk so you can greet that individual with a warm handshake.
When you are invited to attend a formal meeting, study the agenda beforehand to determine what advance preparation you should do. Bring a writing pad and pen to the meeting so you can take notes if necessary.
Where you sit at such meetings is important to your ability to influence the meeting. Call it positioning. That is why you always need to arrive about ten minutes early. With a circular, square or short rectangular table, the best positioning is to take a chair on the opposite side of the table facing the chairperson. In the case of a long rectangular table, the best positioning is in the middle of either of the long sides of the table. If a meeting room has windows, I prefer to sit facing the windows unless the sun will be shining in my eyes.
As soon as you arrive, say hello to those you know, go into the meeting room, select your seat, and place your papers and pad immediately in front of it. Then, walk over and introduce yourself to anyone you do not know, including any special guests present, before the meeting starts. Greet people in a friendly manner with a warm smile.
If you are sitting down in the meeting room, stand up when the chairperson or any special guests enter the room. When the chairperson looks your way, smile and nod a greeting. Follow the chairperson’s lead in terms of the casualness of the meeting. If the chairperson removes his or her jacket, I usually do so myself as a small gesture of affinity.
Actively listen to the people speaking at the meeting. This means looking them in the eye most of the time they are talking. If you want to speak up, wait for a pause in the discussion, raise your right hand slightly and, looking at the chairperson, say: “Mr. Chairman [or “Madame Chair], may I ask a question [or make a comment] on this?” In a less formal meeting, you can just address the chairperson by name.
If the chairperson responds positively to your request to speak, be direct and get to the point right away. Do not ramble, beat around the bush, or in effect make a speech. While you are speaking, make eye contact with the people around the table, starting and ending with the chairperson if you can. Do not be worried about being nervous when you start speaking. Lots of people are nervous when they do so. Your nervousness will usually go away.
While the meeting is going on, do not chat with the people sitting beside you. Keep your attention on whomever is speaking. If there is any chance of you having to use the bathroom during the meeting, always do so before the meeting starts as opposed to having to excuse yourself from the meeting when it is in progress.
The use of videoconferencing for meetings is certain to increase as the technology improves and decreases in cost. The ultimate goal of the suppliers of videoconferencing systems is to create a lifelike meeting experience that all but eliminates the sense on the part of participants of being in different locations. While a few such systems have recently become available, only large organizations can afford their high equipment, installation and operating cost.
Most of the previous points on meetings are also applicable to participating in videoconferences. Here are some additional recommendations to keep in mind regarding videoconferencing:
When you are chairing a videoconference meeting, begin by introducing the attendees, stating the purpose of the meeting, and saying how long you expect the meeting to take. End the meeting by summarizing any conclusions reached, reiterating any agreed upon action to be taken, and thanking the participants for attending. Afterwards, arrange for the minutes of the meetings to be finalized and distributed to the participants.