The Meeting Game

Carlos, an account executive, dialed in for the weekly conference call. As the initial chit chat transpired, he convinced himself that this time it would be different. With many extroverted callers in his nationwide group, he often found it difficult to get the boss to listen to his ideas. This time he was determined to get heard. The high-energy group started in and raced through the agenda. When asked to give his report Carlos did fine, but after the back-and-forth dialogue began on the new marketing plan, he found himself overanalyzing his potential answers. By the time he was ready to speak up, the group had moved on to the closing business, and Carlos had missed his chance to share his expertise on the Western region. More importantly, he also lost the chance to be seen as a player by his boss and co-workers. Carlos’s goal of participation was on target. So was his thoughtful analysis. Where he failed was in execution, in stepping out there and having the confidence to let his ideas be heard.

Like Carlos, do you ever feel invisible in meetings? If you are introverted, clamming up and feeling intimidated is common, especially around lots of extroverted people. When your ideas and input do not get recognized, you can lose out by (1) not being credited for your contributions, (2) having your ideas preempted or hijacked by others, or (3) being perceived as not adding much value to the group.

Your career can be charged up or deflated by how you act and perform in meetings. In one study conducted by Hofstra University, four out of five managers evaluated each other based on how they participated in meetings. Eighty-seven percent of the people studied assess a person’s strength of leadership based on how they run a meeting. There are personal benefits to you as well. Who wants to waste their time in a meeting with no focus or results? Organizations benefit when meetings are run well. It is estimated that managers spend more than one-quarter of their time in meetings, and that organizations spend more than 60 billion dollars a year in unproductive meetings! What a waste of dollars and people power.

So let’s take a look at what you can do as an introverted leader to make your meetings work. Carlos, in our earlier example, could have used my book's 4 P’s Process to establish his seat at the table. He might have done a few things differently. He could have avoided being bowled over by interjecting comments at opportune points and by writing down some points as they were being said so that he could be concise, cogent, and clear in his responses. Let’s look at how you can master meetings using the first P of the 4 P's process: PREPARE.

Prepare: key to tackling meetings as an introvert

Successful introverted leaders strategize for people interactions. It helps to look at meetings as a game, not in the “back-door office politics” way, but like a game of tennis. When you play a competitive sport, you first have to learn the game. You may start by watching a few matches, taking lessons, and getting a grasp of the rules, including how to keep score. As you gain mastery, you also learn how to size up your opponents and develop a strategy. You may think, “If they are weak in their backhand, I will hit my shots there” or “I need to run into the net if I notice them hanging out in the back court.” This is what makes you a strong player (in addition to natural ability). It is similar with planning for meetings. You need to prepare before the meeting: (1) know the purpose, (2) have an agenda, and even (3) plan where to sit and stand.

Before the Meeting “Game”

1. Know the Purpose

What is the desired outcome for the meeting? Is it to tell the group about a decision or to sell one? Is it to make the decision? Is the purpose to solve a problem, create ideas, vent feelings, or recognize achievements? Unless there is a clear target for what you want to accomplish, then it will be guaranteed to be an inefficient and ineffective meeting.

What is the reason you have been asked to attend? Were you copied on the invite list out of habit? If your boss delegated you to be there in her absence, are you empowered to make decisions? If not, then your presence can actually slow down the meeting process because decisions will be held up until your boss weighs in.

2. Have an Agenda

Going to a meeting without an agenda is like going sailing on a ship without sonar, there is no frame of reference and no way to measure progress. You will sail in circles because you may be thinking it is not your role to push for this. But it is, if you value your time and career. You can “manage up” by asking the team leader to provide an agenda so that you can be better prepared to fully contribute to the meeting. You can also offer to prepare the agenda and run it by your manager or team leader. This is a great way of stepping up, and will help you be more confident about the remarks you want to make during the meeting.

An introvert who knew his style, shared: “A former boss of mine, an extrovert, and I developed a rather nice system….. Before a critical meeting, he would come by my office and drop off a written proposal. He would then leave and say, ‘I need you to look at this. I will be back in five or ten minutes.’ This one action helped us both tremendously. He gave me time to study the issue internally, and by coming back he could toss his thoughts in the air and be in his zone as well.”

3. Get Your Voice in the Room

When you know (1) what you are expected to contribute, (2) the desired outcome of the meeting, and (3) the other participants who will be there, you can plan your strategy and comments. You should also plan on getting your first comment heard no more than 5 minutes into the meeting. Get your “voice in the room,” because the longer you wait, the bigger a deal it becomes. You will feel like you have to say something profound or perfect. Making a comment, question, or even paraphrasing what has been said is easier to do in the beginning, and you will be perceived as a contributor. Practice your remarks in the mirror ahead of time if this thought paralyzes you. With practice and focus, you will make it happen.

4. Plan Where to Sit and Stand

In live meetings be smart about where you sit. Kimberly Douglas, CEO of Firefly Facilitation, recommends that you sit a few seats away from the leader and resist your tendency to hide in the back of the room.

What about on conference calls? Don’t sit, stand. Yes, even though people can’t see you, they will hear more energy in your voice. Standing up is proven to make your voice more robust as your diaphragm opens and you breathe in more oxygen. Also get on the call a little early. Plan on engaging in some initial chit-chat with the leader and other members. This rapport building will help substantially when you get to the real give and take of the meeting. Your presence will already be established. It becomes even more important to use your voice and words to establish strong communication on conference calls because you don’t have visual cues.


This has been excerpted from Jennifer Kahnweiler's book, The Introverted Leader. To learn about the other P's besides "Prepare" in the 4P Process, check out the book!