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How to master meetings

Communications expert Michelle Gropp, MIB’13, on why you should love meetings.
Michelle Gropp
How to master meetings

Most of us hate meetings. They distract from our daily routine and get in the way of the work we’re already doing. Often, we’re not sure why we were invited. As someone who works with employees on communications, I hear all these complaints. My answer: You shouldn’t avoid meetings; you should love them. Meetings are a great way to build your personal brand. Implement these four tips to stand out in meetings and show that you’re ambitious, competent, confident and more.

Plan ahead. Benjamin Franklin said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Preparing is so basic, but rarely done, or done well. But it’s an easy way to differentiate yourself. Ask yourself: What’s the purpose of the meeting and why were you invited? Who else is attending and what’s expected? Fulfil your role by planning how your points will be relevant to the topic and attendees.

If you’re the leader, what’s your plan to facilitate? Meetings should be interactive. If you’re doing an information-transfer lecture, then you should consider a different format. We can all relate to thinking, “This meeting could’ve been an email . . .”

Be engaged. It’s hard for the leader to facilitate if people aren’t showing interest. Don’t make the leader do all the work. Everyone attending is accountable to ensure the meeting is productive.

Take the initiative to listen and give feedback to move the discussion forward. If you don’t have new ideas to contribute, then speak up to advocate for a colleague's point of view or ask a thoughtful question. These can be equally powerful.

Get to the point. When you do speak, be concise. Less is more. Think: What do we already know, and what do we need to know? This helps determine the amount of detail to share.

All too often, people overshare with long-winded comments. They hijack the meeting and take everyone down a rabbit hole. This causes attendees to become confused, distracted or frustrated.

Don’t be that person. Jot down your key points before speaking to stay concise. This maximizes value and minimizes time and energy needed from attendees. They will undoubtedly notice and appreciate this—bolstering your personal brand.

Look professional (even on Zoom). Even when not speaking, you’re communicating. With the rise of work from home, here are three tips to look professional on camera. Bonus: they work even if you’re in pyjama pants “off camera”!

First, adjust the camera height to eye level. It allows for your head, shoulders and upper chest to be visible. This is how attendees would see you in person, so replicate it online. Having your camera too low and angled up is unflattering.

Second, good lighting makes a big difference. I recently had a video call with someone for the first time. She had a window directly behind her that darkened her face. She looked like she was in witness protection. Not the impression you want to give. Make sure you have a good light source: natural light from a window, artificial light from lamps, or both. Place the lamp in front of you so it shines evenly on your face at or just above eye level.

Last, have a clean background. When attendees are distracted by your messy bookshelf, they aren’t listening to what you're saying. They can also associate you with being disorganized. A simple, neat background goes a long way. If you run out of time to tidy, a virtual background is a good fallback.

Remember, you are always communicating. It’s time to take control of your personal brand one meeting at a time!

Michelle Gropp is co-founder and master trainer at Lead with Words, which equips employees to increase influence and productivity through clear, confident communication. Based in Waterloo, Ont. and Beijing, it serves clients globally through e-learning.