0 Survival and Success at Work Meetings

Assuming, for the moment, that this is your first meeting - what to say first? Well, if you do not know exactly when it is your turn to speak, always be prepared to say something positive at the start of your comments.

For example, I find it helps if you thank the meeting leader or Chair and indicate that 'it is great to be with you today'. If people do not know you, it might help to introduce yourself. I find, in these situations, it is best to start off speaking slightly slower than in your normal conversation. It indicates a serious intent on your part and people can tune their hearing to your accent and volume.

It also sounds rather professional to pay tribute to a previous speaker (whether you agree with the person or not). You might say 'I would like to build on what Jo just said'. This technique could help you to build important alliances.

If there are people from different departments, please keep your use of technical terms to a minimum and try to use their vocabulary (not your own). If you have to use technical terms, then offer to give an explanation and an indication of the importance of the issue to your work.

Concisely cover the ground you have agreed with your boss (and the Chair) and stick to your item(s) on the meeting agenda.

Say what you can do, before you say what you cannot do

When people in the meeting make requests of you or your department, always say what you can do, before you say what you cannot do, then repeat what you can do. Strive to end each contribution you make in a positive way. You will then come across to others as a 'can do' rather than a 'can't do' person. This might reflect well on you and your department.

Be specific and you will sound sincere when praising and thanking people. Avoid general statements like 'that's great'. Use specific statements like 'it was great to get that customer feedback from you, much appreciated'.

One persuasive technique is to say what you have to say using 'triples'. A triple might be as simple as concisely saying three things in support of your position on a particular matter, or answering questions with three points, or concluding your remarks with three points of emphasis.

There is evidence to suggest that, when we use a 'triple' in a statement, the listeners seem to feel more satisfied that you have thought things through, whereas just one point has to be perfect and could be seen as being right or wrong by some listeners. Two points are maybe not quite enough to persuade, and four points might be too many for any of them to be memorable. The three points you make might be just right for you in a meeting setting.

When to say it

When should you speak? When invited to by the Chair, even if others are talking but not waiting their turn to speak. Maintain eye contact with the Chair when there are silences and when more than one person is speaking at a time. This will build the Chair's confidence in you as being someone who values orderly meetings. Always speak 'through the Chair' (starting with 'I agree Chairman, or 'thank you Chair' etc.) rather like MPs do with 'Mr Speaker' in parliamentary debates and Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs).

If you are not invited to speak, but you want to say something, then put your hand up (to about head height) and wait patiently - keeping your hand up.

Start when there is a gap in the debate or an unexpected silence.

You may wish to offer to Chair the meeting

Hopefully, your work meetings will always be run in an orderly manner, and you will know when it is your turn to speak. In my experience, it is good to have mainly informal work meetings at which people are relaxed, open and honest.

This may not always be the case. The Chairperson of the meeting may be late arriving, unexpectedly absent, or they may be new to the role and unfamiliar with how the meeting has run in the past.

If the Chair is running late, you may wish to offer to Chair the meeting for a while. You will find detailed advice on the key aspects of 'Making the Most of Meetings at Work' in three articles (with this title) that I wrote for Pitchcare magazine in 2012 (issues 43, 44 and 45).

You may well have to interrupt to make your point

If you are not invited to speak during the meeting - and there are no silences - you may well have to interrupt to make your point. This can be done reasonably painlessly by using the 'validation' technique.

It has been observed that even the most domineering people at meetings will allow an interruption if they think the interrupter agrees with them, wants to validate their point, or praise their ideas.

All you have to do is make eye contact with the domineering speaker and raise your hand to acclaim him or her. Interrupt them by saying quite loudly something like, 'I agree, we need straight talking on this matter'. Then quickly make your point.

Involving others will help them to commit to your ideas

After you have made your point, you might want to quickly say; 'that's only my view' (putting your hand on your heart). 'Can I just check around the table if I am alone in this? Is it just me?' Involving others will help them to commit to your ideas or requests. We need to be seen as asking and not telling people what to do.

The debate on this topic may fizzle out or continue to a conclusion. Try to be the last to speak in debates of importance to you and, just to be sure, offer to take some action points (tasks to be done) for yourself to do.

Take the action points that impact on you. You could also get involved in the action points of people you want to impress or get closer to in your world of work.

So, good luck with what to say and when to say it! In Part 3 of this article we will look at:

- Where to sit at work meetings

- What not to say at work meetings

- How to deal with difficult people at a work meeting

© 2021 Frank Newberry

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