Sunday, April 11, 2010

Get in control at "hot meetings"

If you have not been once a while under fire by your management or seniors then it may seem either your job is not interesting or your career’s probably not going anywhere. It is sort of like “no pain no gain.” If you push the envelope and take risks, then you’re going to get mercilessly grilled from time to time. That’s just the way it works. And if you really really want to get recognized or hoping for next promotion and get something of yourself, you have to learn to deal with situations and present your skills infront of the “audience”.

Not talking about being thick skin and becoming a human punching bag. I’m talking about learning to handle getting fired upon like a true leader.

We all probably behave as defensive in the early days, but as time pass we tend to mellow down and learned the ropes:

Don’t get emotion - It’s good to be passionate about your ideas, but if you’re emotionally attached to them, it’ll come through when you’re getting grilled. And managers are incredibly distrustful of ideologues trying to shove things down their throats. It’s all about positioning. In your mind, you have to be willing to walk away. That little separation will give you the appearance of perspective and poise under fire.

Find alternative plans - The best way to respond to most objections is by first embracing them, then explaining why your plan is better or at least equivalent. Again, it’s a positioning game. But there’s a subtle but significant difference between, “My approach is better and here’s why,” and “That’s an interesting idea; here’s why I think this might be a better approach.”

Know your stakeholders - Of course you need to know your material and expect the worst. Unfortunately, that’s not even close to good enough. You also have to know the stakeholders, your audience, and pre-empt their likely objections. A few one-on-one pre-meetings are a good idea. Then you’ll be ready to counter effortlessly.

Never lose your cool in meeting- It’s your meeting, or at least your time to present, so you’re in charge and you need to act like it. You need not bother if the chief or boss start going down on some trivial point. You have to be adept at all the usual techniques for keeping meetings on track, on topic, and on time. Come to think of it, that’s probably a topic of its own.

The truth is that great things can happen in meetings, if the person running the show knows what he’s doing. Unfortunately, most managers are so inept at conducting effective meetings you’d think it’s rocket science. Become adept at running effective, productive meetings with some tips that will help you keep a group of highly intelligent and opinionated staff on track when they’re all trying to fly off in different directions.

The setup - Tell what you expect from those in the room what you don’t expect from them. Be specific. For example, “we’re going to determine our testing proposition to customers,” but “we’re not going to sit here and brainstorm the pros & cons to death; we’ll do that offline.”

Be the alpha person- From the start, your manner, level of confidence, eye contact, and body language need to project and reinforce who’s in charge. You don’t care if the boss is in the room; it’s your meeting. You can be respectful and still be the alpha person. You can even tell them in the setup that your job is to accomplish some key actions today. Just don’t overplay it.

Channel useful debate- There will inevitably be heated debate where the meeting starts to get out of control. That’s fine, as long as you bring it back. First you have to get everyone’s attention with something like “Everyone here listen, I have to jump in …,” and once all eyes are on you, then perhaps you summarize the two sides and start to bring everyone to consensus. Then you’re back in control.

Table useless debate - Same as above, except once you have everyone’s attention, tell them they’ll have to take it offline for a separate meeting, then just continue with the agenda … with authority. Be honest, “it’s time to move on and there’s a lot to cover …” Be tough. Remember, it’s your meeting; you get to override.

Improvise- Sometimes meetings get out of control because you screwed up and executives can sense loss of control. Well, before they take over the meeting, you have to improvise, and that can only come from experience. Thinking on your feet is equal to parts knowledge, experience, preparation, self confidence, and maintaining a sense of humor.

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