I do not love meetings. They typically take far more time than necessary, involve more people than necessary, and often lead to more meetings.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to run a successful company and not meet with your team. After all, meetings can help resolve problems that could otherwise take too long or be too difficult to resolve.
Some companies have adopted unique strategies to make meetings more effective and efficient. Meetings at Amazon, for example, begin with everyone reading a written narrative (two to six pages) on the topic before any discussion takes place. Other companies limit meetings to 25 minutes to send a strong signal that no meeting should exceed 30 minutes.
But regardless of how meetings are organized and how long they last, they are challenging for participants. It’s very easy to get lost in the crowd or to be disregarded, especially if you lack seniority or are a new member on the team.
What can you do to be more effective in meetings?
The answer lies in learning to be a more persuasive communicator. You can do at least five things to improve your communication skills.
First, your credibility as a meeting participant is measured not just by what you say in the meeting, but in the credibility you earned prior to the meeting. A multi-year study by Yale University explored persuasive communication through a variety of different research projects/studies. Yale researchers found that people often subconsciously analyze the credibility of the speaker and sometimes make their decision before they hear what the speaker has to say. If you want to persuade someone to accept your position during a meeting, you must start by making a good impression from the moment you step into the workplace. If your coworkers, managers, or bosses have not developed some sense of respect for you and your ideas, you will rarely be able to impress them in a meeting.
Second, pay attention to your facial expressions and body language. According to Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University, we form our opinions about people based on two opposing details: malignant versus benign intents. Fiske explains: “In ancestral times, it was important to stay away from people who looked angry and dominant.” How does this affect our credibility in meetings? We must be cautious to keep a pleasant or neutral facial expression and body language, making sure we seem open to everyone’s opinions and refrain from becoming confrontational. And yes, it also means that we must give some thought about what we wear, keeping in mind dress code, appropriateness, and neatness. This does not mean you must wear a suit or heels. Dress code is situational. People at a startup, for example, dress differently than people working in a bank.
Third, don’t focus your energies on trying to overtly persuade others. This can be counterproductive. The Yale University Attitude Change Approach study, for example, found that the nature of the communication is equally as important as the speaker’s credibility. People are generally not open minded when someone is overtly trying to change their mind. Most people are intrinsically selfish – they want to believe what they believe in and are often not open to other ideas. Practically speaking, this means that you should not say things like “I’m going to try to change your mind” or “I’m going to persuade you.” Leave those types of forewarnings out of your conversations and just focus on your message.
Fourth, don’t shy away from presenting both the pros and cons of your position. This might seem counter-intuitive, but you’re not simply listing the cons to your position. You’re presenting and then refuting them. This helps build credibility and ultimately is a more successful strategy to persuade in a meeting.
Fifth, don’t be afraid to speak first. The order of who speaks in a meeting does matter, especially when opposing ideas are presented. Studies (including the Yale study) show that when meetings are shorter, other people at the meeting will remember the first speaker or presenter more strongly than the ones who follow, leading them to more likely agree with what they remember. On the other hand, if you’re involved in a long meeting that will be broken up by a long lunch break or other breaks, you should try to speak last. Typically, the delay will distract the audience and cause them to forget most of the information previously presented to them, so you are bound to have the most impact by being the last person to speak.
Do you have other tips that can help people succeed in business meetings? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
image credit: Amanda Woodward
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