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How Can Introverts Be Meeting Heros?

Applying a Simple Method to be an Impactful Meeting Hero

Meetings are an essential way of conveying information, creating alignment, and making decisions. We’ve all been a part of well-organized, purposeful meetings as well as wasteful, chaotic ones. Introvert leader Dr. Ty Belknap chides in his book, Leadership for Introverts: “Meetings are the playground of extroverts.”

Introverts need not compete for airtimes with the extroverts, but can apply their strengths to bring unique perspectives and quality insights into the discussions.

LEADING a Productive Meeting

Leading a productive meeting is all about preparation. Better preparation generates greater confidence and consequently less anxiety. I suspect a lot of meeting apprehension starts from our school days when we had to recite a poem or present to the class on arcane subjects like Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press (yep, I did!). However, at work you are likely to be presenting on a topic that you are familiar with, if not the resident expert. Focus on your mission to share your knowledge with others and to gather valuable insight and ideas to improve your project.

The READY-SET-GO-NEXT checklist below serves to both calm your nerves and drive you toward a most productive meeting.


· Develop a specific objective. Many meetings do not have an obvious purpose, especially recurring project meetings that are scheduled in perpetuity. As a meeting leader, ask yourself what is the true objective of this meeting? If the objective is not well defined and the material to support the meeting objective is still developing, cancel or delay the gathering. Everyone will appreciate your respect for their time and your intention to host a productive session.

· Set a crisp agenda. Put together a high-level agenda. Challenge yourself to ensure that each item has a purpose. What is the objective of each agenda item? Do you have the necessary information to achieve each objective, or should you delay specific items to a future meeting or handle them in a smaller forum? Send out your draft agenda either to all attendees or to a small group to solicit input. Are you missing any important topics? Do others question why certain items are on the agenda? Is the ordering of topics creating a logical flow? Once you have input, finalize the agenda, and distribute at least a couple of days in advance.

· Select meeting time and place. As the organizer, consider the time and place of your meeting. Mid-morning tends to bring the most energy. Meetings over lunch may provide the best attendance, but you should allocate extra time, as attendees will be preoccupied with mealtime socializing. Late-day meetings can find a drained group counting down the minutes left in a long day. Also, ponder the location. Challenge yourself to consider non-traditional venues. Meetings no longer have to take place in stodgy rectangular rooms. Try an outdoor location, a stand-up meeting, or even a walking conversation for small groups of two or three. These can keep the energy up and spark needed creativity as well.

· Invite only value-added attendees. Meeting organizers tend to invite people for various reasons. Some attendees bring critical information while others have worked hard on aspects of the project or are vital decision-makers. Others may be allies there for moral support or co-workers attending for a broadening experience. Before you know it, the room will be overflowing, and the cumulative amount of staff time becomes eye-popping. Generally, larger meetings are less efficient as everyone is tempted to chime in and add their personal agendas. Identify the critical players—those bringing information vital to the stated objective. Some may be reluctant to attend while others may be concerned about being omitted. Start by explaining the meeting objective, perhaps agreeing that sharing pre-read and meeting notes will suffice for those not considered critical. This will trim the attendees and ensure those that do attend will be there voluntarily, ready to actively participate rather than mumbling their displeasure from the back row.


· Gain alignment before the meeting. This pre-work is perhaps the most important differentiator toward a successful meeting. Once you’ve identified invitees, spend time evaluating each. Which attendees may be considered allies on this project, and which may be doubters? Anticipate potential roadblocks to a successful meeting. Invest time through informal huddles with skeptics. The primary goal here is to diffuse potential conflict and gain alignment. Listen to their positions and rationale and share your own. Consider what other agendas may be at play. Ideally, you can remove any challenges or table those agendas for another meeting. At the minimum, seek to build mutual respect and lay the groundwork for civil dialogue within your session’s objectives.

· Consider the personalities in the room. Are there any intimidating people joining? Certain personalities tend to halt the conversation. People stop sharing and bow to the daunting figure. Consider meeting with this person in advance to share meeting objectives. You may subtly emphasize the importance of getting input from all key decision-makers and that the meeting will have to move swiftly to achieve that objective. You may also consider enlisting your manager or a senior ally to neutralize this issue if it develops during the meeting.

· Issue pre-read. For extensive or intensive meetings, consider sending background material with the agenda so the meeting will be more productive. Pose questions in the pre-read note so attendees can consider their contributions to the discussion. Introverts will especially appreciate this addition, as it eases the burden of thinking on the fly.

· Prepare and practice your topic. While a meeting is not an oratory contest, you want to be well versed on your subject and prepared for a smooth presentation to keep the focus on the agenda. You can refer to notes or PowerPoint slides during the meeting, but avoid reading verbatim so you don’t lose engagement with the participants. Don’t try to memorize the presentation. When you share your topic, it will surely be different than the speech you practiced. Words will change, stories will be different, items may be forgotten, and other items may be interjected. You will be the only one to know the difference. It is more important to have a grasp of the facts and be flexible and engaging in the conversation. You have a message to share that the audience wants to hear.


· Create an inclusive atmosphere. Your role is not to dictate the meeting, but to guide the forum toward a productive conclusion with broad input from everyone. Who may be shy or introverted, perhaps needing additional attention to coax their input? The Beyond Introversion Leadership Survey indicates introverts are three times more apt to be involved when called upon, rather than initiating their own input. Simply asking their opinion during the meeting can create an opening for sharing. Rather than enlisting a roundtable brainstorming session that puts everyone under the spotlight, consider providing Post-It notes and a few minutes for everyone to gather their thoughts before sharing on a particular topic. Most participants will appreciate this approach and the quality of the input will be noticeably improved. Some may be quite talkative, perhaps necessitating efforts to keep them in check. Don’t hesitate to tactfully ask them to pause as you enlist other opinions in the room. The leader’s role is to balance the brainstorming, reactive responses, and thoughtful consideration in order to gain diverse views around the table.

· Be concise. Rarely do people need all the details and background about a subject. In your preparation, familiarize yourself with the key value drivers and the points that are most important to be brought into the room for consideration. Share those with crispness and confidence. Then scan the room and ask for questions. Rather than rattling on about a subject hoping to hit everyone’s concerns, their questions will point you exactly to what needs to be addressed. Once the questions are exhausted, you are done.


· Follow up promptly after the meeting. Craft a succinct recap including actions with identified owners and agreed-upon delivery dates. Issue the notes promptly and provide a window for any comments. Once that deadline passes, distribute the final notes. Be sure to place your actions in your calendar or planner. Finally, carve out time to review how the meeting went with key participants. What went well? What could have been improved? Did you skip any of the RSGN steps? Such a review is the mark of a strong leader and will help you continue to improve your meeting leadership skills.

Being a Valuable Meeting PARTICIPANT

If you’re introverted, you may find attending meetings to be nerve-racking. Many involve unfamiliar topics and people expect you to speak up amidst a strange conglomeration of attendees. As a participant, you have been invited because you have unique information critical to the meeting. Don’t try to play the game of the competitive meeting player jockeying for airtime without delivering true value. Instead, lean on your skills of preparation, listening, and resilience to selectively participate. Be sure to prepare yourself in advance by applying our READY-SET-GO-NEXT process:


· Confirm or challenge your attendance. Cherish your time and defend it as the key to your productivity. As an introvert, it’s important to maintain control over your calendar as much as possible. Meetings provide a perfect opportunity to practice this mantra. Most organizations have too many aimless meetings. Understand specifically why you have been invited. Are you a subject matter expert presenting certain data, or you are attending because the project or decision may directly impact your business? As a meeting invitee, be on the lookout for sessions that don’t have a clear objective. If your role is not obvious in the meeting, challenge your attendance with the organizer. A compromise might be to request to review pre-read and meeting notes with the promise to revert if you have any comments or questions. In my experience, filtering meetings often reduces your attendance by 10-20%, thus returning valuable time to your calendar.

· Review the meeting agenda and pre-read. Ask the organizer to provide an agenda and pre-read. Once you receive the material, jot down notes about key items you support and others you may question or oppose, so you are prepared to challenge with facts. Put asterisks next to major points you need to make. Consider huddling with the meeting host in advance so they are prepared to address any issues. Create time on your calendar for thorough preparation. Remember, you are not only a participant for the meeting agenda, but also a team representative that needs to understand the broader impact of the topic for your business.


· Be present early. Arriving early to get the lay of the land will help you feel more comfortable, as will a few handshakes or idle chitchat before the meeting begins. Stake out an appropriate spot at the meeting table. You don’t need to jostle for a power position such as at the head of the table, but you also shouldn’t be sitting in the back or on the periphery as this will degrade your authority and make it more difficult for you to actively participate. Contributing even a quick remark early in the meeting will help break the ice and get you into the flow. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to actively participate.

· Observe the room. Who’s comfortable and who’s not? What alliances have formed in the room? People may say one thing, but their body language may show disagreement, passion, anger, disappointment, or anxiety. Utilize a common introvert trait and pick up on these during the meeting and be cognizant of your own body language. If you sit with your arms crossed and a growl on your face, others will assume you are frustrated. That’s fine if you want to convey your displeasure, but otherwise it is misleading and can be discouraging, especially to the leader.


· Participate. This doesn’t mean you need to be argumentative, the most active voice, or the loudest in the room. Participate authentically. Participation involves listening, connecting points that others may gloss over, and then speaking when you have important data, observations, or recommendations to share.

Sometimes it’s especially difficult to get a word in amongst the more vociferous attendees. Make eye contact with the leader, jump in to confirm the last topic, and then add your viewpoint. Raise your hand if you can’t find a pause in the conversation. You accepted an invitation because you have expertise or perspective that you and others want in that room. Use your notes, prepared questions, and highlighted issues. Be respectful of the contributions of others but do not allow them to neglect your efforts to join the conversation.

If you have a fleeting thought spurred on by the meeting discussions, jot it down and then redirect your attention back to the meeting. Your primary role is to listen so you can also be prepared to jump in when appropriate.

If you are unable to answer a question, rather than ramble, speculate, or lie, indicate you need time to research and that you will then report back. The way you handle these situations can either reinforce your reputation or destroy your credibility. People respect the need to evaluate items without taking up everyone’s valuable time. Just be sure to get back to the meeting leader or participants with your findings.

· Be a team player. While you are representing your work or team, you are also a valued member of the project team itself. Use your tact to both support and challenge statements and offer your opinion. If you anticipate conflict based on the pre-read, touch base with the meeting organizer in advance to find an amiable solution that progresses the agenda.


· Take action notes. Focus your time on the discussions at hand rather than taking copious notes. However, be sure to capture specific decisions and your assigned actions. Share pertinent information with your teammates and manager.

· Place your actions in your daily planner. This helps relieve the anxiety of missed obligations and lets you plan for proper follow-through. This step is often forgotten, but lost actions and lack of follow-up are not forgotten. Your success and reputation depend upon it.

Meetings are a critical work event. A cross-section of teams or organizations comes together to achieve specific objectives. How you prepare and execute your role will go a long way in achieving work goals and establishing your reputation. That may seem like a heavy weight to place on yourself, but by leveraging your strengths of preparation, learning, thoughtfulness, and resilience, your own style will turn you into a meeting hero!

This article is adapted from Steve Friedman’s award-winning leadership book for introverts, The Corporate Introvert: How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence. Check out more about the book’s stories and models and how you can buy your own copy here.



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