Guaranteeing that people are actually listening to you during meetings can unfortunately have a lot more to do with your presence than the content of what you’re saying. Most of us already know that our body language and tone of voice are important tools in conveying a message.
For instance, we know we should stand up straight, make eye contact and speak clearly to assist the delivery of our communication. However, there are many small adjustments you can make which prove extremely effective in pulling attention towards you and your ideas and opinions. At Approved Index the communication training we provide staff with teaches you how to make yourself heard, how to command attention, and ultimately get what you want from any meeting. Here are our five key tips for ensuring you get a fair hearing:
1. Lean in
Just as Sheryl Sandberg said, you have to make your presence felt around the boardroom table and leaning in can do just this. Tilting your body slightly forward indicates to the rest of the room that you are about to take the lead in the conversation. It encourages other people to stop talking, letting you speak with fewer interruptions. This small movement puts you in the driver’s seat in a friendly and engaging way. But be careful not to lean in too much as this may indicate you are seeking approval rather than being authoritative.
“People are always surprised at the difference this can make. When you lean in, the change in your body language makes people stop and listen. It’s simple, but believe me it’s effective.” Alex Lynch, Approved Index’s Business Communication Trainer
2. Make gestures
Using your hands when talking serves to emphasise your point and draws the attention of a room. This doesn’t mean you should wildly flail your hands, but rather you need to make controlled and meaningful movements that punctuate what you are saying. Research has shown that gestures not only help people digest and remember information, but it also creates a positive and persuasive impression.
“Gestures can be an extremely powerful tool when used with purpose. It adds an extra element which helps bolster your point, as well as making you seem open and credible. But use with care, you don’t want to overdo it.” Alex Lynch.
3. Use people’s names
If you want to make sure someone is paying attention to you or if you are looking for a response, find a way to slip in the use of their name. People associate their names with personal identity, so using it when you want to communicate with them makes them more attentive and receptive.
“Try this out in your next meeting, instead of saying “what are your thoughts”, include their name. It makes people feel special and valued and helps you forge a positive connection.” Alex Lynch
4. Assume the power position
Show you are in charge and make people listen by using your body and posture. The power position is all about spreading out and taking up as much space as you can. There are a few variations you can use. While sitting down, the power position is assumed by putting your hands behind your head and your feet up on the desk (although this may be seen as a rather strange thing to do in the middle of a meeting). Alternatively, you can rise to your feet, spreading them apart and your place your hands on your hips. This not only alerts the room to your dominance and control, adding credibility to what you have to say, but it also releases testosterone which makes you feel powerful and confident.
“People are often influenced by how they perceive you rather than what you’re actually saying. If you portray an air of confidence and power, they will assume you know what you’re talking about, which is hopefully true!” Alex Lynch.
5. Nod a lot
If you want people to stop and listen to what you’re saying and ultimately agree or at least respect it, then one thing you can do is nod a lot while you speak. The many positive association with nodding are transferred to the listener making them more likely to receive your message positively. Your audience is likely to mimic you (as humans are mimics by nature) and are more likely to be convinced by your argument or say yes to your request.
“All these nonverbal cues have an incredible pull and power. Communication has so much to do with impressions and this is no different in the world of business. Being aware of your movements and having a body language strategy gives you the best chance of success in a meeting.” Alex Lynch
We have to stop meeting like this
Workers in the UK attend almost eight face-to-face meetings per month, according to recent research. Bert van der Zwan of web conferencing company WebEx argues that much of this time could be better spent.
Meetings are vital for business in a huge number of ways: from establishing rapport and forging new partnerships to motivating staff and discussing new ideas. But are workers in the UK facing meeting overload?
Much of modern thinking on the importance of face-to-face interaction comes from Albert Mehrabian, whose research in the 1960s showed that 55 per cent of the meaning of what we say is communicated by facial expression and body language.
Sometimes, then, a meeting is vital to ensure that we express exactly what we mean. But not every discussion requires that level of contact. A survey we conducted earlier this year revealed that employees think 37 per cent of the meetings they attend do not need to be conducted face-to-face.
When you factor in research from the London School of Economics demonstrating that overall UK productivity is lower than that of industrial rivals such as France, Germany and the US, perhaps it is time we re-evaluated just how many meetings we attend.
Of the people we surveyed earlier this year, 28 per cent said that reducing their number of face-to-face meetings would improve overall productivity at work, with a further 21 per cent saying they would feel less stressed. Clearly these employees would be more effective and happier if they could cut out unnecessary meetings. The costs and environmental impact of travel, particularly by air, can also no longer be ignored.
Finding a happy medium
But how can we reduce the number of meetings without damaging relationships or missing out on opportunities? Firstly, companies must identify those meetings that could take place just as effectively on the phone, or even in a series of emails. By switching these meetings to a purely vocal or written dialogue employees can save both time and travel costs.
In many cases though, a degree of collaboration is required that email or phone conversations can’t provide. Imagine three colleagues based in separate offices but working on the same presentation. Meeting in person would mean time-consuming travelling, while working via email could take a lot of time too, as anyone who has wrestled with multiple tracked changes on a document will attest.
The answer in situations like these might be to take advantage of the communications technology enabled by the internet. These colleagues, no matter where they are located, can jump into a web conference or online meeting, share the presentation between them, and make changes in real time. With the aid of webcams, they can even read each other’s facial expressions.
Face-to-face meetings will always have their place in business. We are social animals, so getting out of the office to meet people will always be an attractive proposition. But in an increasingly competitive world, the costs of business travel and external meetings can outweigh the benefits they bring.
I for one have seen enough reports decrying employee productivity in the UK – and reconsidering the burden of excessive meetings can be one step to addressing the problem. Through careful selection of which meetings can be replaced with alternatives, we may find we can achieve a lot more.