Participating in a meeting
- Q: How to convince colleagues about my point of view in a meeting?
A: You may need to explain your point a few different ways, if others don’t grasp what you said at first. The general rule of presenting (1. tell them what you’re going to say; 2. tell them; 3. tell them what you’ve said) also applies.
There are many oratorical tricks that will help get your point across: repetition, alliteration, the use of “we” and “us”, and of course the rule of three.
There are also plenty of rhetorical devices you can use – probably the most useful are analogy, thought experiments, wit or humour, inference, and reduction to absurdity. Note that these need practice.
However, if you overuse certain tricks or devices, people may spot this and discount the point you’re making.
- Q: How to answer a direct question during a meeting, when I’m unsure of the answer?
A: Don’t bluff or guess.
If you know some but not all of the answer, you can say “I’m not sure this fully answers the question but” and then what you do know.
If you’re completely unsure of the answer, say so. People will appreciate your honesty.
- Q: How can I interrupt others gracefully so I can make my point?
A: This depends on the meeting etiquette. Here are some suggestions:
- If everything goes through the chair, you need to indicate to the chair you have a point to make (e.g. raise your hand).
- If the chair wants to move on from the topic or close the meeting before you’ve had a chance to make your point, you should say something like “Sorry, but I don’t think we’ve fully considered [your point]”.
- If others are talking at length, you should wait until there is a suitable pause (even those really proficient at filibustering have to draw breath some time).
- If you and another person try to raise a point at the same time and you say “No, you go first” – the other will usually reciprocate and make space for your remarks after they’ve spoken.
- Q: How to “backseat” manage a meeting when it’s poorly run?
A: Some dos and don’ts:
Do: support the chair; bring others back to the agenda topic if the discussion goes off track; bring people who haven’t said much into the discussion; focus on the important points; summarise the discussion at the (apparent) end of each topic; check agreement to the conclusions; and (periodically) remind others of the time left.
Don’t: hog the discussion; over-elaborate your opinions; make irrelevant points; relate unnecessary anecdotes; overrule others; dismiss others’ opinions; or encourage/indulge in diversions from the agenda.
- Q: How can I control questions asked while I’m making a presentation?
A: There are two main options:
- During the introduction, ask people to hold all questions until the end
- Take questions as you go, but if a question pre-empts a point later in your presentation say “I’ll come to that later” – when you get to the relevant section of the presentation, you could even ask the questioner “Have I answered your earlier question?”
- Q: How to write effective meeting notes or minutes?
A: Here are some tips:
- Unless you know shorthand, don’t try to write everything down verbatim
- Have a copy of any previous meeting minutes to hand
- Use a notebook
- Start on a fresh page, with the meeting name, date and attendees at the top
- Use only the right-hand page and leave spaces between each topic for the first pass
- Use topic headings
- Make notes on the key points under each topic as they are discussed
- Write clearly
- Go back and add to your existing notes if necessary – using the spaces you left originally, or using an area on the left-hand page opposite the original notes
- Use arrows to link or cross-reference your notes
- Highlight any agreed actions, with the delegated person’s initials
- If there are any previous meeting minutes, check off any brought forward actions that have been completed and note any other status updates
- At the end of the meeting and before you do anything else (so your memory is still fresh) review your notes – add extra details if anything is unclear
- If you’ve been tasked with producing the meeting minutes / notes, type up your notes as soon as possible after the meeting (again, so your memory is still fresh), using an agreed template if possible
- Q: How to deal with meeting with my boss having been told a member of HR will also be attending?
A: Don’t assume this is bad news. Prepare as you would for any meeting. This should include asking what the agenda is and doing some research into the items on the agenda. If your boss / HR won’t tell you what the meeting is about, you need to go in with an open mind.
- Q: How to support a colleague who finds meetings extremely tiring?
A: Sometimes, particularly in longer meetings, it helps to have a break so everyone can come back refreshed – this will probably help tiring colleagues the most. So you could suggest to the chair that some people are flagging and quick break might be in order.
Another tip is to make sure your colleague is fully engaged in the meeting – it’s usually more tiring if you’re being very passive in a meeting than if you’re contributing actively.
- Q: I get bored when people ramble on in meetings. What should I do?
A: Try not to get bored or distracted, as that also rubs off on the other attendees. It might help to concentrate on what the person is trying to say and make sure you understand their message – you might be able to help them (and cut short the rambling) by saying “what I think you’re trying to say is…” then summarising the key points from what you understand they’ve just said.
- Q: How can I politely work my way around not liking coffee or beer when it comes to networking meetings?
A: Don’t forget that the meeting is about networking, not the refreshments! The other attendees will be much more interested in what you bring to the conversation than in what you’re drinking.
It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for an alternative drink that’s more to your taste, you won’t be alone in that, or to decline all refreshments.
- Q: How to react professionally when introduced as an expert?
A: It’s usually best to play down your expertise. Obviously you should appear knowledgeable in your field, try to explain any specialist knowledge clearly and simply for the non-experts, and avoid using technical terms.
- Q: I’ve been asked to deputise for someone in a meeting at last minute with almost no briefing. How do I survive without losing face or appearing unprepared?
A: You should try some or all of the following:
- Speak to the chair before the meeting starts and explain that you are attending as a deputy and haven’t been briefed – and ask for any background information the chair thinks may be helpful to you
- During any introductions, explain the situation to everyone in the meeting (unless the chair does that for you)
- If any questions arise about the progress made by the person you’re deputising for, respond by saying that you’ll have to revert back once you’ve spoken to them – don’t bluff or guess any answers
- If any actions are suggested for you, remind the meeting that you’re a deputy and hadn’t expected to personally pick up any actions
- If any actions are suggested for the person you’re deputising for, explain to the meeting that you can’t commit them to any deadlines without speaking to them first
- Take copious notes and make sure you brief the person you deputised for as soon as possible after the meeting
- If appropriate, arrange to attend the next meeting along with the person you deputised for, to ensure continuity
- Q: My boss has told me to champion a position in a meeting that I strongly disagree with in an ethical or professional context. How do I proceed without either compromising my personal ethos or getting reprimanded?
A: You should never be forced to promote ideas or actions that you feel are against your professional or ethical beliefs. It is a matter of professional integrity that may require some personal bravery to address.
It’s probably best to have a discussion with your boss about this before the meeting.
- Q: Is there anything wrong with asking about job security in a meeting with my boss?
A: It’s fine if you’re in a one-to-one meeting with your boss.
If you’re in a team meeting with colleagues, it depends on the context – if change and new challenges are on the agenda it would be appropriate, but if it’s a routine progress meeting then it’s probably not the right forum for a discussion about job security.
If you are really worried about job security, you should ask your boss to add it to the agenda of the next relevant team meeting and/or ask if you can have a one-to-discussion about it.
- Q: Are there any advantages in using a ‘talking stick’ to prevent interruptions?
A: A ‘talking stick’ (or other similar token) can be a useful tool – only the person holding the ‘talking stick’ is permitted to speak.
If you are trying to establish a new meeting group, this can be a technique that works well, at least for a while. You will probably find that the usefulness of the ‘talking stick’ declines as the group members becomes more familiar with each other.
- Q: Any suggestions on how, as a participant, to deal with a person being malicious?
A: You need to confront this behaviour and try to find out WHY someone appears to be malicious – they might not be aware that this is the effect of their behaviour. If this doesn’t work, you may need to ask the person to leave, or suggest that to the chair. You may even need to ask the chair to suspend the meeting.
- Q: Ideas on how to deal with a person who is contributing good content but taking too long?
A: If someone takes too long to make their point, it’s usually best to be fairly direct and say something like “That’s really interesting, but can you summarise so we discuss the implications?” or “OK, I understand, let’s see if anyone else has an opinion on this” or “That’s great, what does everyone else think?”.
- Q: What are good strategies for ensuring sensitivity to different cultures in meeting behaviour?
A: Here are a few points that are worth noting:
- Cultural differences are many-layered, from the superficial to people’s deepest assumptions and attitudes
- Different cultures can mean different attitudes to people, relationships, language, time, achievement and the environment – almost all the things that can affect meetings!
- Understanding cultural differences is the first and most important step in avoiding potential problems
- Respecting cultural differences and developing empathy for other cultures (which necessarily includes a better understanding of your own culture) should enable you to work more effectively in cross-cultural environments
- Q: How can I as a participant deal with a person who is suddenly very emotional?
A: The first point is that if you ignore someone’s feelings, you’re likely to make things worse. And although an obvious response might be to call for a time-out, this might not be the best solution.
You need to recognise what sort of emotions have surfaced: happiness or sadness, anxiety or excitement, fear or confidence, anger or serenity. You also need to consider your own and others’ emotional responses to the situation – does it make you feel uncomfortable and how are the others coping? Is anyone else taking command of the situation and, if so, do you feel that there intervention is appropriate? How you deal with this will depend on your interpersonal skills and experience.
- Q: What should I do if a manager is bullying a participant?
A: Bullying should not be tolerated, so all the other participants should be prepared to intervene to support the person being bullied and to rebuke the manager doing the bullying. If the manager is more senior to all the other attendees, you should still be prepared to point out that the bullying behaviour is not acceptable.