Meeting Skills Can Be Honed--And Should Be


What does a corporate communications trainer do? Part II

Meetings are an essential part of most professionals' work, and I find myself working on meeting skills with my clients often. After all, meetings typically occur with much more frequency than big presentations and they contribute mightily to how a person is perceived, both in their professional role and as a person. Meetings are opportunities to show that you not only know your stuff, but that you're able to talk about it in a clear, effective way.

With my clients, especially ones stepping into new roles, we spend time working on two main components of communication: the appropriate language needed for the role and the ability to speak up and present their ideas fluently and confidently.

With regards to the first component: There is often new jargon and new themes or ideas inherent in starting a new role that a person might not have the experience in using or navigating before. If a client is preparing for a meeting they will lead, or working on meeting skills, in general, I will have them speak out loud what they plan to say. We'll also role play so that they are ready to answer any questions or objections that may arise.

If no immediate themes come to mind for them, I might ask them to explain what their position entails in detail or describe the company's overall vision and goals. These exercises help the person to not only clarify their role, which still may be challenging for them, but maintain perspective of the big picture: the company's overall purpose and mission. I might also ask them to talk about what their individual goals are while working for this company, or even about the last conflict that arose at work and how they handled it.

With purpose-driven meetings, people often benefit from reminders to consider what the exact needs are of the other participants at the meeting, and pointing out of getting too caught up in details, or their own personal experience in coming to this information, which ultimately is irrelevant and a waste of people's time.

What we'll typically do next is record the message or short talk, listen (or watch) back. We'll determine if the information presented is clear and easy to understand, and if it is concise; if the vocabulary is professional and specific, and the sentences are well-formulated. We then might come up with three more ways of conveying the same message. This takes a bit of work, but what may start out as a 3-minute explanation or talk ends up effectively being reduced to 1 minute; and this highly coveted skill, as the client understands, is essential to their job performance, and will be especially appreciated by higher ups.

The other important benefit of doing this work is that when nerves play a role, a speaker will be much better off if they have done what was necessary ahead of time, so that the words are more accessible and flow, with less on-the-spot thinking needed. It allows the person to be more present, and to speak confidently and clearly, minus the pressure of struggling to express an idea for the first time.

This work is ultimately not just for a particular meeting the person is preparing for, of course. It will carry over into any time or instance the person needs to discuss this topic, or is expressing a congruous idea or one with different themes that connect in similar ways. It is almost a given that when starting a new role, extra work needs to be put in. Even if a person is not stepping into a new role, they may need frequent reminders of what their job is, the company big picture, and spend time re-addressing how they want to play this role. After all, one's professional and personal selves and roles are constantly changing.

Now, the second part of meeting skills is the performance aspect that goes into it.

This is daunting for many people, especially if speaking up and talking to groups is not something they have had a great deal of experience in. They not only have to present a smart, well-constructed message, but they need to come across as confident and credible, even if they are definitely not feeling that way quite yet.

Communication is a full-body, full-self event. The individual components that go into the feedback loop of communication-brain, body, breath, and voice, often need individual addressing. Through discussion, exercises, and practice, my client and I may end up talking about issues of identity, discovering tensions unconsciously being held in the body or head, habits involving breath-holding, or a whole number of other issues ultimately preventing them from communicating more fully and effectively.

As a person becomes better adept at "playing" their instrument and performing in front of people, they become more empowered, comfortable, convincing communicators. These skills that are being acquired quite naturally carry over into other contexts, besides meetings.

The individual work done may help a person "click into" the mindset and state of being they've created for themselves in their practice. It may have taught them how to change their breathing so that they both think and speak more clearly, or it may lead to them consciously releasing the tension in their jaw they've been holding on to-proving to be a game changer in their speech and overall delivery. It may have helped them to connect to their voice in a fuller, deeper way, causing them to feel more present and more fully engaged, making them even more compelling communicators.

As areas are addressed and new skills are practiced and reinforced, the more ingrained and habitual the new ways of being become, contributing to a person's sense of self and the way they connect and deliver their unique messages to others.

If you would like to work on your "meeting skills," or any other aspect of your work or personal communication, schedule a free consultation, and find out if this might just be the thing that propels you into becoming the even better, more successful, and happier version of yourself.