Have you ever gone into a meeting (either physical or virtual) intending to do a "data dump" -- to share as much information with as many people as quickly as possible? Do you ever feel awkward facilitating a meeting because you don't know how to get participants to interact? The discomfort of silence convinces you to do all of the talking just to "get it over with" and move on to the next item on your long to-do list.
Your meeting is one of many items on your listeners' calendars for the day. This is one reason why influencing during meetings is becoming more and more difficult: You have to work that much harder to guarantee that you and your message stand out above the noise to influence others to take action.
One of the keys to having influence during your meetings is to interact, interact, and interact again. Without listener interaction, you have no idea what your listeners' needs are, what questions they have, or if they understand and agree with your recommendations. When your listeners interact, they are part of a conversation, and exchange of ideas and solutions. They will have more respect for you because you care about what is important to them. When you communicate a message that focuses only on you, your objectives, and your expectations, you're not likely to influence others.
To increase your influence during all meetings:
1. Set up the meeting. Immediately set the expectation for interaction. At the beginning of the meeting, tell your listeners that to honor their time, you will be interacting with them often. Explain that you will ask questions throughout the meeting to ensure they are receiving the value they expect. Make the meeting about them and not about you. After setting up the meeting, interact within two minutes (if you haven't already).
2. Ask open-ended questions. This is especially critical during virtual conversations when you do not have the capability to see your listeners. When you ask, "Do you have any questions?" you are inviting your listeners to check their email or check out altogether. If you really want a response, try one of these questions: "What are your thoughts on…?" "What experiences have you had with …?" Then make certain you pause to give listeners time to respond. You will quickly convey that because of the level of interaction and engagement you invite, participants will not have time to catch up on emails.
3. Start and end on time. One of the biggest mistakes presenters make is to disrespect their listeners' time by starting and ending late. If you communicated a start time of 10 a.m., then start exactly at 10 a.m. You can always bring the decision maker -- if they are attending -- up to speed when they arrive. When you end the meeting five, 10, or 15 minutes late, you communicate to your listeners that you are not organized and that you are not concerned about wasting their time. If 10 minutes prior to the promised end time it feels like the meeting is going to run longer, check in with your listeners to see if the topic requires another meeting at a different time or if they are okay with going over time.
4. State a specific call to action. Most meetings miss this one. Clearly state the specific action you want your listeners to take. For example, gaining agreement is not a specific action step. "By next week Friday, send your team lead your five action steps for increasing sales." This is a specific action step that clearly communicates what you are asking your listeners to do without wasting their time.
5. Speak in short, clear, and concise sentences. Do you really need to schedule one-hour meetings or can you successfully accomplish your goals in 30 minutes? When you speak in short sentences, you save time because you say less with more and you pause to give yourself permission to think on your feet. Few things are harder to follow than a leader who is vague in defining goals, decisions, and direction. Communicating clearly and concisely may seem obvious, but it is far easier said than done.
6. Pause at key intervals to check for understanding. When you complete a key point, take a "pulse check" by asking, "What questions do you have about…?" and then out-pause everyone. Someone will get uncomfortable and speak up, which is exactly what you want. You want to create the reputation that when you lead a meeting, participants are expected to interact.
7. Make a connection. Only speak when you see your listeners' eyes. This will allow you to continuously read your listeners so you can adapt your message on the fly to meet their expectations. Connecting for one sentence or thought per person quickly builds trust. Without that trust, your listeners will not be influenced by you.
Applying these seven steps consistently for all of your meetings increases the respect and trust your listeners have for your decisions and recommendations.
Stacey Hanke is the founder and communication expert of Stacey Hanke Inc. She is the author of Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday, and Yes You Can! Everything You Need From A to Z to Influence Others to Take Action. Stacey and her team have delivered thousands of presentations and workshops for leaders of Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola, Nationwide, FedEx, Kohl's, and AbbVie. Learn more about her team and company at staceyhankeinc.com.