Have you ever hosted a meeting and struggled to get attendees to participate? How many times have you shared information and gotten little more than blank stares in return? It can be extremely awkward. The uncomfortable silence convinces you to speak more, hoping to move past the discomfort and get on with the meeting.
When your listeners don’t participate, you're left not knowing what their needs are or if they have questions. You aren't sure if they understand, let alone agree with your points. The bottom line is that you lack the influence to move people to act. As a result, you tend to continue talking without pauses so you can avoid the awkward silence. You may even talk faster to get through the meeting more quickly. You also might assume no one is speaking up because they agree and fully understand your message.
When you host a meeting, you are fighting a battle of distraction and fatigue. Employees spend anywhere from one-third to half of their workday in meetings. Such meeting fatigue makes it challenging to get and keep everyone's attention. Add technological distractions such as smartphones and email, and the challenge is even greater.
You can host a productive meeting and influence others to act upon what you have to say by following these nine steps.
1. Set up the session.
As you begin each meeting, explain to your listeners that you wish to honor their time and therefore will move through the material quickly. Share that you will stop to ask questions throughout to ensure they are receiving value from your time together.
2. Make your sentences short and concise.
It's hard to follow someone who is vague or rambles when speaking. Make your points and set goals with clear statements that are brief and direct. Avoid using cliches and non-words that take away from your message.
3. Pause to let your message resonate.
Some believe silence is awkward, but it is quite effective when used in conjunction with a strong point. Taking a moment to pause allows your listeners to think about what you just said. It gives them time to consider the points and any questions they may have. This also provides you a moment to take the pulse of your audience and ensure everyone's engagement by asking, "What questions do you have about …?"
4. Invite audience interaction.
Ask questions that check for understanding, such as "What are your thoughts on …?" Pause and give them time to contemplate a response. These types of questions invite others to jump in and respond.
5. Connect with their eyes.
When you're speaking, connect with your listeners' eyes. This ensures you've captured their attention and helps you gain a better sense of engagement. Eye contact also helps you read your listeners' reactions to what you are sharing, giving you an opportunity to adapt the message to better meet their expectations.
6. Hear what is not said.
Avoid getting so wrapped up in your message that you fail to read your listeners' body language. In the moments you pause and make eye connection, evaluate expressions and body language. If they look confused, ask more questions. If they look bored or disengaged, adapt your message to hone in on the benefits for them.
7. Honor the clock.
Nothing is more irritating and disrespectful than someone who runs over their allotted meeting time. If you've asked your participants for 30 minutes of their time, take 25. By honoring the clock, you show your attendees respect.
8. Do unto others ...
If you don't want people distracted by their phones, texting and emailing while you speak, then lead by example. When you attend meetings hosted by others, put your technology away. Give the host your undivided attention and truly tune into the conversation. People will respond in kind when you are front and center.
9. Influence doesn't end with the meeting.
Consider these points for every daily interaction you have. Whether it's a high-stakes meeting or a hallway chat, these tips can work in your favor to help you earn a reputation of consistency and credibility. When you practice these methods within every conversation, it becomes a part of your natural way of communicating. As a result, when high-stakes situations arise, you are cool under pressure, and your message is in sync with who you always are. This helps your listeners trust you and believe what you're telling them to be true.
Commit to these strategies every day, in every interaction. They will soon become a natural part of your communication skills that invite others to engage. Only then will you have earned your listeners' trust and their willingness to act upon what you have to say.