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Business Meeting Basics

Meetings can be an excellent opportunity to get noticed, create allies, and participate in team efforts. Yet many researchers tend to sit passively during meetings and let decisions be made without their participation. How can you participate constru

John K. Borchardt

Dr. Borchardt is a consultant and technical writer. The author of the book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” he writes often on career-related subjects.

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Meetings can be an excellent opportunity to get noticed, create allies, and participate in team efforts. Yet many researchers tend to sit passively during meetings and let decisions be made without their participation. How can you participate constructively and help achieve meeting objectives while using meetings as an arena to boost your reputation?

Be familiar with the meeting subject and agenda. This will enable you to prepare by thinking about the subject and possibly reading background materi al. You will better understand how you can participate and contribute.

Dress appropriately. For example, as a researcher meeting with engineers in a paper mill, will wear a golf shirt or sports shirt and casual slacks because jackets and ties are definitely out of place there. However, business dress is usually the most appropriate attire for high-level corporate meetings

Arrive on time and choose a strategic seat. Sit near your supervisor to show support. Latecomers and people who oppose the boss or the subject of the meeting often will sit far away from the boss or meeting organizer. If your boss is not there yet, choose a seat that will give you a good view of any visual aids that will be used. Try to choose a seat toward the middle of the table where you will have the maximum number of neighbors and be at the center of the discussion action.

Active listening is an important teamwork and meeting skill. Follow presentations and discussions closely. Asking pertinent questions at appropriate points and nodding to indicate understanding all serve to show the presenter and other attendees that you are an interested participant in the meeting.

Asking questions indicates your interest and serves to obtain additional information. Avoid asking questions in an abrasive or overly aggressive way. Open-ended questions, often beginning with the words how, why, or what, usually prompt an extended response. Asking open-ended questions often helps to settle major issues and define options.

Closed-ended questions, that often begin with who, which, or when, usually solicit a relatively brief response. They are best used to solicit very specific information and as a process check to be sure you understand a previous answer.Speak up at appropriate points to ask questions or state your own views. Speak distinctly.
Nervousness has a tendency to make you speak rapidly, often in a low tone. Be aware of your poor speech behaviors and guard against them.

When you speak, be concise. Other attendees will lose interest while you make long, poorly organized statements. If possible, mentally prepare an organized statement. For example, starting with “I think there are three factors to consider” will guarantee your audience’s interest as listen to learn what these three factors are.

Body language can also indicate interest, support, and understanding. Sit upright and lean toward the table. Look at the person speaking and make frequent eye contact.

Avoid negative body language such as crossing your arms across your chest, frowning, or gazing into space. Don’t slouch in your chair or lean back from the table. These behaviors indicate opposition or lack of interest.

When listening to others, being patient helps them to feel they are participating without thinking that you are trying to take over the meeting and “railroad” others into accepting your point of view.

Be open to opposing points of view. Don’t go into a meeting with your mind made up before hearing others’ opinions. There may be a significant factor you haven’t considered. This will help you be on the “winning side” more often.

In the interest of group harmony, once a decision is made, go along with it even if you disagree. When you disagree before a decision is made, never apologize for your position or become emotional. Rely on facts. However, opposing prevailing logic too often can create a reputation that you are an unsupportive, negative person.

If you feel you find yourself in opposition to decisions too frequently, it is a good idea to consider whether you are truly compatible with the prevailing corporate culture. Find out if your team leader or supervisor thinks you are in opposing positions too often. It may be that there is a deep-seated compatibility problem and you should seek employment in another department or another company. Also, find out if your supervisor thinks you are being abrasive when speaking in opposition.

These techniques are also useful in meetings with customers and suppliers, during professional society committee and governance meetings, and during question periods after technical presentations.