Pleased to meet: a guide to meeting skills

Want to run meetings well and communicate effectively? Pick up these tips from a panel of psychlogists and trainers


Any IT manager who wants to climb the greasy pole knows that it is not possible to rule the world by email alone. Effective managers have to learn how to run and participate in meetings effectively. Being good at meetings means mastering the subtler forms of communication, so pick up on these tips from chartered psychologists and trainers.

Eye contact is the quickest aspect of body language to master and most useful. “It’s essential for communication so make it early on,” says Cary Cooper, professor of behavioural psychology, Lancaster University. Check out everyone in the room, particularly if you are the chairman. This ensures everyone feels engaged from the outset and will increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Eye contact is also a useful tool if you are speaking and someone makes a strong challenge. “Don’t just look at the person while answering but have eye contact with everyone in the room. This diffuses the challenger’s power and means everyone else stays engaged too”, advises Cooper.

“Men are easily sucked into macho power politics played out in a meeting room and think the only powerful place to be is holding court,” says Cooper. In fact, strong eye contact with someone - your boss or a colleague who you’re looking for support from - will give them visual cues and increase your influence in the meeting room. Remember also that if you talk without pause, people will feel excluded. And if you hog the airwaves, people will soon get used to the sound of your voice and not hear what you’re actually saying.

The power of silence

While meeting attendees fret about who has got the floor, they forget about the power of silence or even the pause. The playwright Harold Pinter well knew the power of the pause and the meeting maestro also puts it to good use. “It works like a verbal highlighter,” says Tina Lamb from training consultancy, The Impact Factory.

If you want to emphasise a point or give credit, pause before you move on. When people are under pressure or on the back foot, they tend to talk more quickly and without pause

If you’re not the world’s most fluent speaker, planning your comments in bullet points is a very useful way of communicating recommends chartered psychologist, Noreen Tehrani. Three is a good manageable number, not too many and not too few and they can be mental notes or scribbled down. “You can even preface your comments with I’ve three things to say’. It provides a frame for your remarks”, she advises.

Finding a gap in the proceedings to say your bit is also an art. “The key is to signal before you speak”, says Tehrani. This might be simply eye contact with the chairman or previous speaker. Or you may have to signal more strongly and put up your hand. Either way you need give some kind of cue and receive an acknowledgement before you speak up. If you want to make a point positively it’s better to lean forward slightly. Leaning back can give the impression of being evasive or even defensive.

Make your apologies

However proficient you become at meetings there are some you just have to duck out of. The key question in making the judgement is to assess how your absence will be interpreted and to tailor your excuse accordingly. The meeting will always be important to someone so work out whether you can afford to annoy them by your absence.

The best tactic is to bail out of a meeting before it’s even started. It’s easy to ping the organiser an email questioning how you are able to make a useful contribution to the scheduled meeting. The implicit message is: ‘you’re wasting my time’.

However if you decide to turn up for part of the meeting It’s a common courtesy to give you apologies at the beginning if you have to leave or wrap up early. Always give a rationale for an early departure and don’t let people fill in the gaps: it’s a human tendency to interpret negatively. If you depart suddenly halfway through a meeting, everyone will be left wondering.

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