Many skilled IT workers don't provide impact in meetings because they are better with PCs than people. Here is how one man transferred his lessons as a perfomer into the conference room.

By Dino Londis

There are a many different ways to manage yourself in a meeting.  We've all heard the advice to "be yourself." However if your voice wasn't heard and you weren't effective then your 'self' may not be working and you'll need to be a different version of yourself. Many skilled IT workers don't provide impact in meetings because they are better with PCs than people.  I struggled for years to be heard, viewing meetings as two-hour blocks that I had to wade through so I could get back to my real work at the cubicle. I may have taken more time than others to learn my footing, but I learned a lot along the way. 

Business MeetingI was a performer before I was in IT, a comedian actually.  I noticed a rule of thumb about performing in front of an audience: If you start big, you could always bring it down, but if you started soft, you can't go up. This directly translates to the conference room. The longer I wait to speak, the less effective my impact.  I need to participate early to mix my voice among the others in the room. The meeting starts as soon as I walk in.

As a performer making the transition to IT, I found that I also remained silent for fear of exposing my lack of technical skills. Put me in front of a computer and I could figure out any problem, but I couldn't easily translate it because I hadn't yet learned the vernacular. That silence became an embedded trait that was difficult to break. I can get by a long time by just showing up. There is an old saying that 90 percent of life is just showing up, but that's exactly what everyone in that room has already done, so the playing field of influence is level when the meeting starts. My silence wasn't really getting me anywhere at all.
Be Heard One Way or Another

In Jan D'Arby's book,  titled Technically Speaking, she says her clients are prone to stage fright because they have an aversion to 'performing' of any kind.  Invariably, the fright comes from a first experience speaking to a room full of people that went embarrassingly wrong. As a performer, I bombed in front of audiences all the time. - that's why I'm in IT now! -- but speaking up at a conference room caused me genuine stage fright.  If I thought didn't know enough to express an intelligent opinion, I could at least do my best and participate by asking questions.

Provide Context

But the real growth came when I realized that to be effective in a meeting needed an agenda. Not the one provided by the secretary, but my own desired outcome from the meeting.  I once made a presentation about the enterprise version of a dictation software product compared to the stand-alone version. I had all the research and all the answers, but I failed to develop a point of view.  In other words, I didn't know what I wanted from my very own meeting, so we ended up choosing a cheaper product that ultimately would have cost the firm more in configuration and maintenance. I had to go back and make this argument, but the moment was lost and so was my effectiveness. 

Clyde Burleson says in Effective Meetings The Complete Guide: "Understand that going into a meeting no matter how well prepared otherwise, without a clear, definable notion of what you want to accomplish is a disservice to you, your organization, and your future." Knowing what you want to accomplish in a meeting will allow you to measure what you did get out of it.  My agenda is no secret.  I take a position and express it.  It's a point of reference based on what I know going into the meeting.  Of course, I can change it at any point.

Sit to Be Heard

For me, seat location is as crucial as speaking up early.  I sit directly across from the chairperson, or, if they are at the end of the conference table, it's three people from either side of him/her. This allows me to converse with them without anyone having to lean out of the way and it also allows me to speak loud enough to be heard by the rest of the attendees.

Is This Meeting Necessary?

How many meetings do we attend where nothing happens?  We all discuss our points and schedule to meet again in two weeks. I once had met with six attorneys about querying an online database to determine if the unpublished photographs that a blogger was posting on a fan website was delivered by someone working for the studio. After realizing how thorough the database was, I was reasonably certain we could determine who was posting the data. This meeting took more than an hour and two of the junior attorneys were continually taking notes even though I was essentially repeating myself after the first ten minutes. I don't want to think that billing the client had anything to do with this, but a lot of times a meeting is a lazy way of doing work that could have been done with a ten-minute phone call.

It's Not Over When It's Over

Finally, after my meetings, rather than just rushing back to my cubicle for the real work, I take five minutes out to write what I felt I did right and what I could have improved upon. These are private notes and set a personal benchmark for the next meeting.  Now those two hours are not a lost block of time, but have my stamp on them. I have a better understanding of what we're doing in the department because I was really listening and not waiting for the two-hour block of time to expire.  It's what they're paying me for anyway.