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Tips for Making Better Contributions in Meetings

There seem to be two kinds of people in business meetings: those in love with the sound of their own voice, and those who don’t make a peep. We’ve all been there, wishing someone would either be quiet or speak up, but finding the right balance is easier said than done – a big reason many meetings fail in their main purpose, which is to align views and plans toward some shared goal.

We can’t always silence the guy needing to be the smartest one in the room or coax comments from the shy bunnies in the back, but we can calibrate our own input in more productive ways. I’m usually on the quieter side; not out of modesty but in fear of saying something dumb. Even so, I’ve picked up a few lessons on how to make better contributions to meetings.

If you’re prone to “over contribute,” think about:

1. Pace yourself. A good rule is to simply take your turn and no more; if there are five in the meeting, try not to make more than a fifth of the comments. It’s seen as polite and will keep you from dominating the discussion.

2. Link your comments to those made by others. Rather than waiting for someone to quit talking so you can start again, try connecting your words to theirs … “Susan makes an interesting point, which makes me think…” is a good way to craft a sense of continuity and conversation, rather than a series of individual statements. It also suggests you are…

3. Listening. The second biggest sin of the non-stop-talkers is failing to really hear what others are saying. If you actually listen to the discussion, you may find you don’t need to waste time repeating a certain point. And it will help you avoid the first greatest sin, which is…

4. Do not cut others off. The quickest way to diminish your idea or negate your comment, no matter how brilliant it is, is to offer it by cutting another off or talking over them. Remember, the goal isn’t to script the meeting according to your views, but to help everyone reach a shared point of view.

For those who abide by the rule of “better to remain silent and avoid looking the fool, rather than opening your mouth and removing all doubt,” you have a point. Sometimes you simply don’t have anything to offer. More often, however, you do – you’re probably just not 100% sure of its value. For you (and I offer this humbly and with sympathy):

1. Jot down your thought before speaking it. This will force you to “package” it concisely and carefully, and allow you to offer it more confidently.

2. Choose your timing. I like to wait until everyone else has spoken in order to get a sense of who might be in agreement and who’s not. Even if you’re asked to comment early, there’s no harm in suggesting that you’d like to hear the views of others first.

3. Use the interrogative. Not sure how your comment might be interpreted? Pose it as a question: “Have we tried / Is it feasible to…?”. If the idea or comment is truly unworkable, you’re giving others a way to gently put it aside. And if it’s good, someone else can confirm it – making at least two people around the table in support of it.

I can’t guarantee these will work in every meeting, of course, but I’m pretty confident they will never hurt a discussion, either. Bottom line: if it feels like you’re talking too much, you probably are. And if you’ve got something to say, get it on the table. Otherwise, why have a meeting?

Influencing Your Audience: Making Your Persuasive Message Stick

Capturing interest at the start of a message is important, but in persuasive writing, you also need to sustain the audience’s attention throughout the message. That’s how you influence people’s thinking and motivate them to accept your ideas. Here are a couple of ideas:

Tailor your appeal to something the audience wants, needs or values.

      For a manager, that means you must know what motivates your employees. There are various wants, needs, and values that move people: a bonus, a promotion, time off, self-esteem, a challenge, an appeal to their leadership potential. Others value inclusion: They appreciate the opportunity to be part of a group.

 

      In a different situation, maybe you are trying to persuade people to support or oppose a developer’s project in your community. If you are persuading people to approve it, you might focus on jobs, tax revenue, or shopping convenience. If you want to persuade people to oppose the project, perhaps on environmental grounds, consider what is important to the audience. Will the public lose access to open space? Will wetlands be sacrificed? Will pollution be an issue?

Present your persuasive appeal in a context familiar to the audience. News stories about a foreign country often will refer to the country as being “about the size of Iowa” or some other state. Such a comparison gives people context, which is important in making a message persuasive, because you need to present your argument within the realm of the audience’s experience. You need to make it real for people.
If you are appealing for a contribution to help the poor, and the audience doesn’t know what it means to be in poverty, compare what the audience takes for granted every day to what poor people never have. That helps the audience to “see,” and your appeal is more likely to move them.