Voice and Communication Coaching

Seven Techniques to Help You Communicate Brilliantly at Meetings

News Posted: 14 February 2023

An Illustration by Habiballah of Sava for 'Conference of the Birds' by Farid Al-Din Attar

An Illustration by Habiballah of Sava for 'Conference of the Birds' by Farid Al-Din Attar

Have you noticed that leading a meeting can be like juggling five or six balls? You’re required to create an environment that allows everyone to speak. You have to put your opinion across in an engaging way. When you’re challenged you have to reply logically and with credibility. And if that isn’t enough you’ve got stay calm and look like you’re having a good time!!! Is it any wonder meetings can be stressful?!

To lead a meeting or even to take part in a meeting requires specific skills that are rarely explained let alone implemented. A meeting requires that a successful dynamic is created between the people around the table. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to get on and love each other but the person leading the meeting ideally creates an environment where a positive outcome’s more likely to be achieved.

Here are seven techniques that will transform how you lead meetings and make you feel much more comfortable while doing so:

  1. Have an agenda and state what that agenda is.

  2. Use eye contact to help create a safe group and create a unified dynamic.

  3. Let as many people speak as possible.

  4. Let people talk to you and to each other.

  5. Use gesture to invite people to speak and put people on hold.

  6. Have a posture that optimises your personal impact

  7. Have vocal power to be heard and to drive the meeting forward.

  1. Have an agenda and state what that agenda is

How many meetings have you sat in where there’s no agenda?! If you’re leading the meeting tell people why they’re there and what the objective of the meeting is. They’ll love you for it! People hate to waste time and meetings are perceived as one of the greatest time wasters in the business world! Do you want to lead those kind of meetings?!

Don’t assume people know what the agenda is even if you’ve explained in an email. People are busy and attend many, many meetings. Be clear, concise and speak with vocal energy so everyone knows why they’re there. You might even want to check that everyone agrees to the agenda if that’s contextually appropriate.

Often the person leading the meeting states the agenda and then continues to go on and on ……and on. The beginning of the meeting is important in establishing the group dynamic. If you don’t include people from the onset, they’ll become passive, bored and feel they’ve no reason for being there. So get people engaged from the start by asking the group questions, getting them to nod and say ‘yes’ and other small but valuable contributions. This is the beginning of a healthy group dynamic.

Try using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ and don’t be afraid of reiterating the agenda should the meeting fly off in some random direction!

2. Eye Contact

Eye contact connects you to everyone in the meeting. This is vital. However, eye contact does so much more. It begins to create a group dynamic where people are connected to you and to each other. This dynamic will create a healthy environment where people will feel they’re able to speak up and honestly voice an opinion. Eye contact affirms and acknowledges every member of the group and weaves the individual personalities into one functioning unit.

When someone asks you a question or challenges you, there’s a tendency to only make eye contact with the person who’s talking. This will impair your group dynamic. Look at the person when he or she’s talking to you and then answer by looking around the room and making eye contact with everyone present. The answer isn’t only for the person leading the meeting, it’s for everyone. By doing this, firstly, you’ll diffuse any tension there might between yourself and the person challenging you. Secondly, you give responsibility to the group to answer the question and give their opinions.

3. Let people talk to you and each other

If you find that two or more people start talking to each other - don’t panic! This is a good sign that ideas and opinions are flowing and that the meeting is forming itself in a generatively healthy way. The meeting leader can often feel that their control and influence’s slipping away. This isn’t the case. Let the conversation flow knowing that you can pull things back should you need to.

If you find that two independent conversations have started, this isn’t such a positive sign as the group dynamic’s splitting. However, don’t panic! I will explain in the next technique how you can get things back on track.

4. Use gesture to invite people to speak and put people on hold

If you gesture and speak at the same time you draw people’s attention in both a visual and auditory way. Further, your personal impact increases as your gesture backs up your words.

Invite people to speak with an open palm up gesture and look in their direction. If someone keeps interrupting and you’ve answered their questions a number of times or if someone is going away from the agenda, politely forge ahead with a subtle, relaxed, low, palm down gesture in their direction. This is NOT a noticeable, forced gesture. Don’t necessarily look at the person you’re putting on hold but the whole group. Alternatively, you might choose to say in a short phrase why you can’t answer the question at this point. You can always invite them back in later if everyone’s been heard or time permits.

5. Let as many people speak as possible

When you have an outcome you’re desperate to achieve, there’s a tendency to take control of the meeting and drive forward towards your goal. The risk of this approach is that people may seem to agree with you but may go away with unanswered questions, feel unheard or worse feel disrespected. These people may not implement what’s been agreed and so yet another meeting’s called to pick up the pieces.

Knowing what people think is both inclusive and strategic. Therefore, create an environment where people can safely voice what they think and feel. You then step up to the challenge by acknowledging and answering these questions.

Bring in the more reserved members if you can and let the safety of the group allow a healthy expression of ideas. This can be time consuming but know as the leader of the group that the information you’re extracting is pure gold. If you’re running out of time, it’s your call whether to push ahead in spite of not hearing everyone. It’s a balance between pragmatism and idealism. However, be aware that unvoiced opinions can sometimes derail your plans at a later date.

6. Have a posture that optimises your personal impact

Leading a meeting is rather similar to being a conductor of an orchestra. A conductor has to be seen and look like he or she’s in charge. How you sit at the table will create an immediate impression on your audience. A good posture will energise your voice and gesture.Sit with your feet and knees hip width apart. Move forward on the chair so you aren’t leaning on the chair back. Firmly plant your feet on the ground. Imagine a cord on the crown of your head that’s pulling your head gently upwards. Don’t allow the chin to lift. As the head moves slightly towards the ceiling feel your vertebrae elevate. This is a posture that looks credible and allows the breath to drop into your lungs in a way that fuels your voice.

7. Your Vocal Power

The importance of your voice at meetings can’t be underestimated. Of course, you don’t want a strident voice or to shout but you need a voice that draws attention and can command a room. It’s your number one super power on which most of the techniques above rest. A strong, energised voice allows you to talk over people to draw the meeting back on track. It also allows people to listen, I mean really listen, to what you have to say. And if your voice is strong and committed your message also conveys strength and commitment.

Get used to talking at a higher volume than normal. Allow the breath to feel like it’s dropping into your lower abdomen rather than pushing from the throat. Your voice is the power that draws the meeting back to the agenda, that links you with everyone at the table and conveys your thoughts.

So what does a good meeting look, sound and feel like?

Perhaps not as orderly and sequential as you might wish! You as the leader of the meeting are calm, poised, energised and focussed. People understand from your behaviour that they have the right to speak and yet they’re being led by someone who knows what he/she’s doing. However, letting people come in and allowing democratic discussion can be untidy and appear chaotic. Words are energy and that energy may zig zag around the table from one person to another. It’s your job to ‘conduct’ proceedings but also to let others come in and sometimes even for them to appear to take over for a minute or two.

Adopting the above techniques takes skill. You might try adding one or two at a time. But over time you’ll become more confident with each technique and there will be a shift in how people respond at your meetings.

Next Steps

If you want to explore in more detail how to lead meetings and achieve your outcomes more easily contact me here.


Author Posted by: Louise Collins.

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