In part one
of this story, you got my first five tips on transforming the often-maligned business meeting into a productive and enjoyable exchange. Now I hope you determine that each meeting you hold is necessary, specify goals to focus the meetings, establish ground rules to make them run smoothly, set the stage for a collaborative, inclusive environment, and reign in the ramblers.
What next? With the additional five tips that follow, you’ll become more creative in how you run your meetings, more aware of how you come across, and unstoppable about getting things done (whoever takes ownership)—once again, with special angles for introverts, who bristle at the thought of another boisterous brainstorming session, yet excel at mulling over ideas in advance on their own time. You’ll distinguish yourself as a business meeting ninja—an applaudable aspect of a true leader.
1. Choose the best format and venue for your meetings. Be creative with how you conduct them. Try “50-minute hours.” Your colleagues will be thankful for the time to get to their next, er, meeting. For your conference calls and virtual meetings, consider using file sharing formats such as Google Docs to collaborate on documents—so all parties can make changes to them in real time. I’m a fan of doing that because it enables you to complete your meeting with a concrete result; rather than just talking about a project plan, you can draw one up together. Another idea: How about conducting some of your shorter meetings standing up?
INTROVERTS: When you’re running a meeting, pick a format that works with your style as well as the styles of your associates. You may do better in quiet environments, free from distractions. And those brainstorms can flood your senses and drown you out. How can you handle them? Ideally, you will prepare for them so you can think of your key points in advance. But often that’s not possible. When brainstorming just starts happening, suggest ground rules for conducting the conversation thoughtfully (e.g., acknowledge all contributions, reinforce what you like, but don’t dismiss any) so you’ll get heard amid the chatter.
2. Prepare for curveballs like challenging questions. Zingers. Don’t you love ‘em? There’s nothing like when your boss or a rival puts you on the spot with a question that makes you squirm, particularly in a room full of colleagues. The question could be about something you really should know, or it could be something totally unreasonable. Either way, the spotlight is on you, and it can get pretty hot under there. Your best strategy is to prepare for the most likely zingers. Of course, there are always the unexpected ones. Even if it’s counterintuitive and extremely difficult to do, field the questions by using positive language (e.g., “I appreciate your need to get the proposal out before the end of the week….”) rather than getting defensive (e.g., “I never said I would get it done by Friday”).
INTROVERTS: Since being put on the spot is extra challenging for you because you do better by processing your thoughts quietly (i.e., between your ears instead of out loud), your readiness is vital. Prepare professional sounding filler language to buy yourself time to think when those meteorites hit. Echoing the advice above, of course, make your language positive. But taking it a step further, ask someone you trust to practice role playing with you until you’re adept at responding to zingers with lines like: “That’s a thought provoking question. My initial ideas about it are….”; “I’m glad you asked that question. I know just where to get the answer, and will follow up with you later today.” Also, take an improv class to build your muscle at fielding questions on the fly. (Check out “Improv for Introverts.”)3. Be mindful of your nonverbals.
Body language often speaks louder than words. After all, not everyone can talk at the same time at a meeting (one hopes!), yet we’re always giving one another signals nonverbally. Consider what you’re conveying by slumping back in your seat versus sitting up straight, looking down at your notes versus engaging people with good eye contact, and frowning or looking bored versus smiling. Also, pay attention to what you do with your hands—fidgeting versus gesturing naturally. Most of us aren’t aware of our nonverbals. Practice in the mirror and on video. (See “How to Find Your Inner Cary Grant.”
INTROVERTS: Be mindful of how you come across. You may be less expressive, giving fewer cues, which can make you seem aloof. And if you’re on the quiet side, you can become invisible at meetings, which can put a damper on your career advancement. Ask for feedback about your nonverbal communications from a few people you trust, and determine what, if anything, you need to tweak.
4. Use your best voice. How you sound can also be pivotal in your effectiveness at running a meeting. Do you speak too quickly for others to understand you? Or so slow that you make them drowsy? How about those ums and ers, which you can learn to replace with silence? Do you become wordy or does your voice flatten into a monotone when your boss’s boss enters the room? Remember to vary the lengths of your sentences, add emphasis to your most significant words, and project your voice so the person seated furthest away from you can hear you (electronic devices notwithstanding).
INTROVERTS: Speak up. You can practice doing so in ordinary daily encounters, like when you give the server your order at a restaurant. If you have a soft voice, use it authoritatively by being extra mindful of enunciating every lovely consonant and vowel. That will make what you say sound all the more important.
5. Establish concrete next steps and accountability. Unless your meeting is truly just a meeting of the minds with no end goal necessary, determine who will take on what task and by when. Building in this accountability will help ensure that your meetings are more than just talk. By assigning responsibility to your participants and their taking ownership for various next steps, your meeting will contribute to your organization’s success and each participant’s satisfaction.
INTROVERTS: If you are detail oriented, craft a follow-up note to the group to capture all the key deliverables. You’ll help keep everyone on track as well as raise your visibility.
Now it’s time to transform the boring business meeting, eye rolls and all, to a place with smiles and high fives!
Copyright © 2013 Nancy Ancowitz