Question: In my new role, I’m leading a lot of meetings, many with senior people attending. It makes me nervous and the first ones haven’t gone as well as I’d like. What do you suggest?
Answer: Preparation will equip you to succeed and ease your nerves.
Learn from meetings you have attended in the past. What stood out from the good ones? How about the ones that you suffered through?
Consider ways the meeting leader managed the sessions, including pre-meeting work, time management and people management.
Give preparation due time by setting a meeting with yourself to plan.
Determine who you need, the topics that need to be covered and the decisions to be made.
Be sure you have all the information you need. This might be prework for you or you might need to send out “to-dos” to attendees so they can be ready.
Challenge yourself on whether a meeting is needed. We have all been in pointless meetings on topics that could have been handled by a phone call or email.
Send the agenda in advance so attendees know what they are signing up for. There are people who, reasonably, will not accept a meeting without one.
If you need to hold time while you develop the agenda, say so and get the agenda out as soon as you can.
Once in the meeting, stick to the agenda. This is where time and people management come in — and is probably the part that triggers some nerves.
It will help to review the agenda at the start of the meeting and get agreement on the needed outcomes of the gathering.
If you have three topics, make the point that you need to allow time for each.
Further, promise that you are going to be managing the time closely, and stick to it.
You might be afraid that you will make people angry by holding them to the point. In fact, with a senior-level group, they will respect that and will appreciate your skill in managing a group. They don’t have time to waste.
That’s not to say there isn’t skill involved. Think about your meeting exemplars from your past or research meeting management tactics.
Learning smooth ways to get people back on track, curtail overly long explanations and manage conflict among proponents of differing views will serve you well.
Get buy-in from people in advance on contentious topics. Knowing where key people stand can help you manage the group to get a decision.
Keep your attendees comfortable. If it’s a longish meeting, build in a break and provide water and a light snack to keep the energy up.
Prepare yourself, too. Take a few minutes to center yourself before the meeting (a short breathing exercise for example). Don’t skip breakfast or lunch, as being hungry could add to your stress level.
Appreciate each person as a valuable contributor, setting aside concern about titles. Corporation position only matters in your meeting when it affects achieving your objectives.
Follow up with action items and documentation of decisions, again, an oft-neglected step.
Finally, let this preparation show in your assurance in leading the group, and let yourself enjoy it.
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes. Submit questions or comments about this column at www.deliverchange.com/coachscorner or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.