Dread Meetings? Tips to survive in a meeting culture

Meetings seem to terrorize more people than facing a dark alley in a foreign country. There are unseen lasers, crossing invisibly between people, just waiting for you to trip the trigger and bring the ceiling down on your head.

Lots of meetings are business as usual and you can be your happy, competent self. Unfortunately, there are those other meetings… the ones filled with senior people, a new boss or a difficult presentation.

These are the uncomfortable meetings where you clam up, can’t think and generally feel like you’re floundering.

If I’m there, I must speak
There seems to be an implicit rule, often reinforced by managers, that if you are invited to a meeting you have to speak up. Repeating what someone else has said doesn’t count.

However, if you struggle speaking spontaneously, you can add value to a meeting by listening. It’s easy – look at the speaker, smile at them, nod in agreement, encourage them to talk. They will gravitate to you. No matter how senior, they will be flattered that you care. They’ll relax a bit because they’ve found a supporter and if you actively listen, right to the end, they will say you made great points and you must come to the next meeting, even if you didn’t say anything.

You can’t create this impact while scribbling notes and occasionally sneaking a peek at the big boss.

Creeping Death – working its way around the table
Whether it is simply introducing yourself, saying a few words or offering your opinion, people hate the wait as the conversation creeps around the room toward them.

If you get particularly nervous with this meeting tradition, volunteer to go first. You’ll speak more spontaneously, with less time to get nervous and you are assured no one will make your point before it gets to you.

If you don’t have that option – try to focus on what other people are saying, instead of rehearsing what you will say over and over. If you are listening to the others, you’ll find something you can comment on; “Gosh, I’ve finally understand what you do, Tim”, “I think you make a valid point Mary and I’d build on that with…”, “John I like how concisely you said that, I don’t have anything to add.”

If you stay in the room mentally, listening to the meeting and not the voice in your head, you will have a much easier time participating.

If I don’t look at you, you can’t see me…
Like the Ostrich myth, thrusting your head into your notebook does not make you invisible.

Nor has the light been adjusted to shine directly down on you, making everyone notice that: you haven’t washed your hair, you aren’t dressed appropriately, you have no idea what they’re talking about and you aren’t even sure it’s English,

The truth is, you are one person in the group. No one is focusing on you, if you aren’t speaking. They are wondering why it is so warm in here, why they wore the jeans with a hole, what they will have for lunch or why the current speaker won’t stop talking.

People are either engaged in the meeting, listening and focused on the discussion – or they are in their own head’s thinking about themselves.

Either way, it is unlikely they are thinking about you at all.

If you want them to notice
If you want them to focus on you, keep your mind on the conversation, think about the big picture or the details, whichever is your strength, and offer a comment that might move things toward a conclusion.

Finally, don’t fidget. People do get annoyed with the person that continually swivels in their chair, taps their pen on the desk, or does anything else that gets irritating with repetition.

Think of it as a sporting match and the conversation is the ball. Keep your eye on the person who has the ball and be aware of who they might toss it to. If your mind is on the discussion, and it moves to you, you’ll be prepared.


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