Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 10;   March 7, 2012: Speak for Influence

Speak for Influence

by

Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, speaking in the East Room of the White House in 2010. The slow pace of Mr. Obama's speaking, whether making casual remarks or more formal pronouncements, enables him to take the care required of someone whose every word is parsed by thousands of pundits. But more important, it leaves him a reserve to escalate his pace and intensity when he comes to important points in his speeches. Record one of them and pay attention to tempo when you listen to it. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

When we participate in meetings, we tend to focus on the parts of our contributions that relate to the content of the discussion. Certainly content is important, but how those contributions fit into the discussion can be important, too. To determine fit, we must examine both the content of the contribution in relation to the rest of the conversation, and the flow of the exchange itself.

Here's a set of techniques for enhancing your influence in meetings.

Leave the obvious remarks to others
A contribution that's relatively obvious to most participants can create an impression that the contributor is less worth listening to than other contributors might be. That impression lasts beyond the present moment, leading others to attach lesser value to that contributor's offerings, even when he or she has something more valuable to say. To enhance your influence, leave the obvious remarks to others.
Speak slowly
When people want to contribute, some feel pressure to make their contributions quickly, minimizing the time taken. In a rush, they backtrack, misspeak, or forget important points. Avoid this trap. Speak carefully and slowly enough to get it right.
Make notes if necessary
Sometimes it's difficult to get a chance to speak. Perhaps many people are trying to enter the discussion, or the meeting is virtual, or the facilitator unskilled. When your turn comes, make it count. Use notes to help you remember the points you want to make. Nothing erodes influence like forgetting important points.
Ask brilliant questions
Contributions need not be definitive. Questions are contributions, too, especially when they stop the meeting in its tracks. See "Asking Brilliant Questions," Point Lookout for November 22, 2006, for more.
Learn how not to be interrupted
Being interrupted erodes the contributor's ability to influence the meeting. Usually we regard the interrupter as the cause of the interruption, but the person being interrupted can do much to prevent interruptions. See "Let Me Finish, Please," Point Lookout for January 22, 2003, for more.
Deal with interruptions
When interruptions do occur, To enhance your influence,
leave the obvious
remarks to others
talking louder than the person interrupting is ineffective. Because interrupting others repeatedly is a performance issue, deal with it privately. Talk to the meeting lead if you aren't the lead, or talk to the interrupter if you are the lead. If things don't improve, escalate.
Get to the point
Some begin their contributions by describing them, or by explaining how the idea came about. For instance, "I was thinking about this very issue as I was coming up the stairs from the lobby this morning, and this amazing insight came to me." Skip that stuff. Get to the point. Making the contribution eliminates the need to describe it. If people want to know how it originated, let them ask you.

Most important, build something impressive on what already exists. Unify the ideas of others, or crystallize what's already on the table. Help others see the way forward. Go to top Top  Next issue: Apophenia at Work  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

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It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
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The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.

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