Meetings. How to establish your presence

Ode to the introverts amongst us

Mention the word “meeting” to most people and there will at least be an inward groan. Get a group of colleagues together and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Whether it’s the lack of oxygen in the room or something in the water, but what can start as a friendly brainstorm, can often turn into all-out war, where only the voices are the highest volume triumph. The dynamic often feels unevenly weighted to those with the gift of the gab. I have sat in many meetings over the years and observed the most interesting people sit back, barely saying a word. If they have started to make a contribution, they literally get talked over, beaten into submission.

It is clear, the meeting forum is not for everyone. For those of you reading this who have given yourself a hard time for your inability to command a room, you might be comforted to know that you are not alone.

“Being interrupted, ignored and spoken over happens to all of us at some time. It’s often not personal, but it feels personal,” says public speaking coach Geraldine Barkworth. “A common mistake is assuming that it’s a permanent state.”

If it not dealt with immediately, the hesitation to speak can amplify and become a self-perpetuating circle of self-doubt, creating a fundamental lack of confidence in the long-term. However, all is not lost, you can turn it around. By adjusting certain behaviours you can ensure you are heard above the din.

Finding your moment to shine

You’re sitting in a team meeting, round the boardroom table, in your mind you have an important point to make and you are poised. The problem is, there is never a break in the conversation, you hesitate. According to Geraldine, you need to make your presence felt at the table. “Don’t allow yourself to be elbowed out by others’ paraphernalia or presence,” she says. “Take slow, deep breaths, ground yourself though the floor, relax your hands and avoid fidgeting.”

If you are holding your breath, waiting for someone to recognise your brilliance, you will be very blue in the face. You need to show you are ready to make a point. The people around you will sense your energy (positive or negative) so make sure you are sitting up properly, lean-in and physically participate. Don’t sit there with a bored or passive expression, be attentive and take the plunge the first opportunity you get. Your upbeat body language will not only help you get the attention of the room, but your self-assurance will help you impress your audience too.

Dealing with interrupters

Let me make a point here. If you murmur at low volume in meetings, you are highly-likely to be dealing with the same issues as those who turn up the volume to fever-pitch. “Groups bring up people’s ‘stuff’,” explains Geraldine. “Group dynamics are full of unknowables and therefore, uncontrollable. It’s that perceived lack of control that can reduce perfectly reasonable people into an opinionated loudmouth, a muffled mouse or something else entirely.”

If someone in the room has the very bad habit of cutting across you (we all know someone), keep your composure. They are just reacting to the situation in their own “special” way. Although interruptions may appear rude and annoying, they do not automatically mean a lack of respect. Keep calm and carry on! You could perhaps say something like “Thank you, xxxx, I’d like to just finish my point if I may” and then continue. When you have finished your point, flash them a winning smile and thank them. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

What happens if you have a mind-blank?

I am sure we have all had dreams about this. In full flow, during a meeting, impressing the socks of everyone and then suddenly you have a blank mid-sentence! I say this all the time to candidate’s I am briefing, the key is preparation, preparation and guess what…preparation. I certainly do not mean creating War & Peace, even a mental rehearsal is a confidence booster. Build your confidence by talking to your other half, talk to yourself in the mirror. If you know you have a meeting coming up and you know it is going to be tricky, pushing your boundaries, then why not try shifting your mind-set to something more positive? Think about how you can improve your body language, don’t slouch. Put the phone down, Instagram will still be there in an hour and adjust your mind-set. You are in that meeting for a reason – you have every right to be there. So boost yourself by doing the prep and telling yourself that.

Dealing with the spotlight

Sadly, not all of us are Obama or will immediately command the respect of the room. If you feel the pressure as soon as you open your mouth to speak, then in order to do yourself justice make sure you speak clearly. Geraldine suggests you “connect to your inner speaker”. “It only takes a few seconds,” she notes. “Consciously take a moment to pause, and take an even breath in and out, then focus on your purpose in speaking, not yourself.”

If you can see that someone is scrolling through Facebook or looking out of the window, do not shrink back into your shell. It is not a direct reflection of you. “It’s just not possible to win [over] all of the people all of the time,” Geraldine notes. The key is to keep your poise, engage your inner chill and keep a smile on your face. Pick out someone who is engaging with you, find your ally in the room. “They may be leaning forward, smiling or just making eye contact with you. Speak directly to them and notice their reaction to your words.” You could even recruit a work buddy to play this role ahead of time if you’re really nervous”. The rest of the room will see what’s happening and want to engage with you too. Everyone is a winner.

Try it. Release your inner warrior.

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