How to Be a Superstar in Meetings

Here are seven tips to make sure you stand out and demonstrate leadership the next time you get summoned to a conference room.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
October 05, 2012

Meetings may be the number-one complaint in today's workplaces. More and more people view attendance at meetings as a form of time-theft that they have to endure. This mind-set causes some to show up at meetings in person, but not in spirit. Woody Allen's often quoted words that "80 percent of success is showing up" works in reverse here—it is better not to attend a meeting at all, than to show up as a potted plant. Emotional disengagement in meetings leaks through and this is not in anyone's best interest.

Meetings are a prime opportunity to show leadership in the room. Whether a meeting is well run or not, as a participant, you can stand out from the crowd by doing your share to contribute to the success of a meeting. Here are some pointers:

1. Be a front-seater. Don't sit in the back of the room, waiting to make a speedy exit. Get out of the shadows and choose a seat right opposite the leader, if you can. This will increase your visibility and opportunities for engagement.

2. Don't be the first to leave. Stay behind, speak with the meeting leader. Offer your feedback if the meeting was helpful to you. Make a genuinely appreciative or constructive remark. Thank someone for their contributions.

3. Build on the ideas of others. Honor a colleague's idea by referring to it and adding your perspective. Acknowledging someone else's contribution is rarely done and is the mark of a leader.  

4. Criticize ideas, not people. Arguing against an idea is fair game but attacking people in the process attracts negative attention. Personal attacks, especially in a meeting with others, are emotional violations. Replace statements such as "I don't follow your logic at all," with "Jim, help me understand how you arrived at this conclusion."

5. Make positivity your hallmark. There are those who pride themselves for playing the devil's advocate. Research shows that these individuals snuff the life out of innovation. Be the voice in the room that infuses the meeting with positivity. Leaders value those who adopt a positive stance and help others see what's right and what works, rather than focus on what's wrong. A study showed that senior executives use positive words four times as often as negative words. That's one way to genuinely boost your executive presence.

6. Be brief to be heard. One of the most frustrating parts of being in a meeting is being held prisoner by a colleague who rambles on and, often, takes the meeting off track. State your issue succinctly and get to the point quickly; if this is a problem for you, think through the sequence of your ideas before the meeting, paring down unnecessary details. Master the 30 second answer—this is especially important if you are meeting with C-level executives. Meetings are expensive: Don't use them for discussions that are best handled in a one-on-one encounter.

Above all, learn to notice the silent messages your peers are giving you when you stray from the topic and waste their time. You know the signs but you may have developed a habit of ignoring them: Do they avert their eyes, drum their fingers, seem restless, speak with a neighbor, check the time or catch up on their Blackberry messages? Do too many people start to take bathroom breaks? Catch yourself: acknowledge that you digressed, go back to main topic and briefly reiterate your main point.

7. Learn to build rapport. First meetings, especially, are crucial for developing rapport that can lead to a successful business relationship. Knowing as much as you can about the person you are meeting is now a lot easier and faster with Noteleaf; this is a novel Google application that creates a mobile profile of your meeting. It includes the photograph of the person you are meeting with, the LinkedIn profile, work history, mutual acquaintances, and tweets. This application will make your search for rapport building topics easier.

Nowhere is rapport building more important than in the first sales meeting with a prospective customer. Ian Gilbert, president of Third Core, provides some useful advice in a video on how to successfully build a rapport. It involves a sincere desire to understand what is important for the client as well as knowing what questions to ask. Start the discussion by asking your client what he would like to get out of the meeting. Aim for the right tone: as Gilbert states, "too much reverence... or too much salesman like behavior... creates the wrong kind of bond." You want to create as near a peer relationship as possible based on the value that you may be able to bring to the meeting. This enhances your meeting presence.

Tom Peters, business author and speaker, once said: "Meetings are the No. 1 leadership opportunity. Like it or not, meetings are by definition the principal stage for exhibiting leadership." While Peters' statement is directed at leaders, it applies equally well to meeting participants. Choose every meeting opportunity to showcase your leadership abilities. It will set you apart from the crowd.