Make your meetings work for you

In Japan, it is not uncommon for business meetings to be held with all
attendees standing up: no table, no chairs, everyone in a circle. The reason why
is straightforward – with no distractions, no unnecessary comforts, the meeting
is efficient.

Not so in meeting rooms up and down the UK – chairs on wheels that swivel and
slide, discussions that go way off course, chirruping iPhones and BlackBerrys,
tea, biscuits; chairing a meeting is a skill in its own right. How can you
ensure you get the best out of a meeting?

Ahead of any meeting, ensure all attendees receive an agenda and ask
participants if they would like to add anything. You don’t want to be too
prescriptive, but an agenda will keep meetings focused and insure that all the
important points are addressed.

First rule: phones off. Schools across the country have banned mobile phones
from class and businesses would do well to follow. This is difficult. Everyone
likes to believe they are indispensible but, if the meeting is important, it
should command undivided attention. A successful chair will ask at the beginning
if anyone is expecting or has to make an important call and will schedule breaks

Accountants will often have to attend, or even chair, a meeting of
participants with competing positions. You need to be able to overcome the
difficult behavior of others so that you can contribute fully, whatever your
role. One trick that works is to use the person’s name, make eye contact, lean
forward and perhaps extend your arm across the table as if you are about to
‘rabbit chop’ the table, and then in your normal voice say: “Peter, you
interrupted me.” And then make your point.

Handling distracting behavior can be dealt with by stopping conversation
completely, and is particularly effective if you stop mid-sentence, or even
mid-word. Those in their own discussion will quickly realise the meeting is on
hold because of them.

Finally, to make a point in a meeting you must know your point. Work out what
it is before you open your mouth. When answering a question the cardinal rule
is: make the answer the first thing you say; elaborate briefly and then shut up!
A guiding principle for the length of answer is thirty seconds.

Jack Downton is managing director of The Influence Business

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