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Business meetings that make the marketplace go around.

About this time of the month, you’ve probably scheduled a calendar full of meetings to kick off the new year—strategic initiatives sessions for the new year, budget discussions, marketing meetings.  If you’re not participating in a typical New-Year-New-Organization marathon of meetings, consider the routine business meetings that make the marketplace go around.

If you’ve ever complained that you can’t get in a word edgewise in your typical team meeting, you’re not alone.  Or maybe you identify with this comment from someone in a recent training program: “I’m tired of having my ideas ignored.  Then ten minutes later, somebody else says virtually the same thing, and the boss jumps on it like it’s brilliant.”

If you yourself have ever had the urge to interrupt with, “Stop!  I just said that 5 minutes ago. Weren’t you listening?” you may find the following tips useful.

Forget the Warm-Up Drill.
Ever since students first learned the five-paragraph essay format, teachers have required introductory paragraphs.  Some business professionals remain in that rut. Forget a long introduction when you’re offering informal comments. Start at the point of new information or the new idea. Then pause and take your cue from others. If they want elaboration, add it. If they have questions, answer them. If they nod agreement, you’ve made your point.

Use Another’s Question as Your Platform.
Look for someone’s question as an invitation to speak up. Have your prepared message ready, and step in when someone raises an appropriate question. You’ll be accomplishing your goals on someone else’s airtime.

Avoid Letting Others Put Words in Your Mouth.
If you’ve expressed an idea that someone feels the need to “interpret” for the group, don’t let him misquote or misinterpret you. Example: “No, Bill, that isn’t exactly what I meant. What I meant was….” “Wait a minute. I said it exactly as I intended to. I’m saying that . . .” “Not exactly, Sarah. Maybe I was unclear. Let me put it like this . . .” Only you know what you mean to say. Say it directly without an interpreter.

Set Yourself Up to Keep the Floor Until You Finish.
If you frequently meet with a group of strong personalities and routinely get interrupted, preface your input with something like the following: “After listening to what has been said, I have four observations to make about the X situation. First, . . . ,” and then keep enumerating as you go along so that people understand that you’re not finished when you take a breath.

Control Interrupters.
The only way to prevent some people from interrupting you is to insist on finishing. Call attention to the continued interruptions like these: “Paul, I didn’t get to finish. What I was about to say was . . .” “Excuse me, but I got interrupted. I had one more item to mention . . .” “Please let me finish . . .”

Or you may choose to prevent an interruption with body language and voice. Raise your hand to the interrupter and continue to speak at the same or a louder volume. Keep talking until the interrupter realizes that you do not intend to relinquish the floor.

Support, Explain, or Reject Only One Idea at a Time.
Poorly facilitated meetings encourage people to dump everything once they finally get the floor. That is, because you’ve had to wait so long to get airtime, once it’s granted, you may feel like dumping your ideas about everything that has been said so far. Don’t dump. Unload your thoughts on only one issue at a time, and then get off the court. If people learn to trust that you’re not going to sidetrack them by dealing with several issues at once, they’ll let you take the court more often.

Talk With, Not to the Group.
Consider yourself as being in a conversation with more than one person rather than “addressing a group.” Pause to let others speak or ask questions if necessary for clarification as you move through your ideas. Use “we” and “us” rather than “you” and “I.” Use terms that others will understand rather than lapsing into jargon. Make eye contact with everyone around the table rather than reading from your notes or staring at the floor, the ceiling, or your favored ally.

Disagree Without Being Disagreeable.
Never let yourself become a victim of groupthink, a condition in which group harmony becomes more important than results. If the purpose of a meeting is to generate ideas and get input, by all means speak up when you disagree. Just don’t be disagreeable. The difference is attitude.

Lighten Up—The Point Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect.
Not all platforms and purposes are created equal. Your career will not rise or fall based on the interactions in every meeting. If a particular meeting is not necessarily “yours,” jump in and participate—even without thorough preparation. Spontaneity still succeeds.

Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 45 books, published in 26 countries and 20 languages.  Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised Edition. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training programs to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in oral, written, interpersonal, and organizational communication.

3 thoughts on “Communication Skills: Series on Contributing Valuable Ideas in Meetings—Part 1: 9 Tips to Keep Your Ideas from Being Ignored, Discredited, or Stolen in Meetings”

  1. Love your two part series on this topic, Dianna. These are some great tips that any team member can do immediately to be heard. I particularly like how you encourage team members to proactively manage what is happening in the meeting rather than being a victim to circumstances and whining about it later!

    1. Thanks, Kristin. I’m sure we’ve both been captive far too often when neither the meeting leader nor other participants helped steer the ship.

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