27 September 2023

Making a point: How to use pointless meetings to sell your ideas

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Judith Humphrey* says instead of zoning out or checking your phone, know how to reclaim your time and make meetings more productive.

Few activities in the workplace eat up as much time as meetings.

Professionals spend 37 per cent of their time in meetings, and it’s worse for executives, who by some estimates devote 85 per cent of their days to meetings.

But if you look around during a typical meeting, you’ll see people texting, or treating the event with indifference.

Too often, these gatherings are regarded as a painful obligation.

Imagine if you approached meetings with an entirely different mind-set — as a place where you can sell your ideas and demonstrate your leadership.

With that mind-set, you will help your organisation, and not incidentally, your own career.

The following five steps will enable you to sell your ideas and make your meetings more productive and engaging.

  1. Figure out what you want to sell

The starting point is having a sales mind-set.

Most people enter meeting rooms with a knowledge of the topics, and some background on them.

But rarely do participants come in with a desire to pitch their thinking.

Yet if you are invited to a meeting, it’s because others think you have something to say.

You need to come prepared to make that point or make your position clear.

For example, let’s say you’re in a meeting focused on a new marketing plan.

You’ve been invited because you’re versed in the product or service being marketed.

Decide what point of view you want to get across.

Do you support the plan, have reservations about it, or downright dislike it?

Knowing what you’re selling will give you a sense of purpose.

It will energise you from the moment you walk into that meeting.

  1. Listen for your ‘in’

Once the discussion starts, listen carefully to the exchanges and find the right moment to present your ideas.

There are various times when you can take control.

One is when other voices in the room are moving toward the position you want to present.

In that case, speak up and say, “I agree with George’s view on this. In fact, I’d like to build upon it.”

That collaborative tone will win you listeners.

Another situation in which you can best introduce your views is when the discussion is moving away from what you’d like to say.

This is a ripe opportunity to sway the thinking of the room.

But be discreet — don’t begin with “on the contrary,” or “I don’t agree.”

Those phrases will distance you from the previous speaker and position you as a negative presence.

Instead, begin, “Leah and Jamal have argued that … and while I see how they arrived at their conclusion, there is another point of view we should consider.”

In both instances, the art of the pitch begins with listening, and showing that you are sensitive to the views in the room and you are building upon them or recognising them.

  1. Cut to the chase with one single point

Pitching your ideas requires getting to your point as soon as possible — or you’ll lose listeners and they won’t be there for you when you do get to your message.

This message should be a one-sentence statement that distils your thinking and defines the essence of your pitch.

It can be a message about how to move forward (“As I see it, we need to first get our partners on side”) or it can be a message about staffing (“Marketing needs to take the lead on this”).

The point is to have a point — one, simple, clear, compelling idea that reaches the room.

  1. Elaborate with clear points

You have your audience listening to your idea.

Don’t ramble or wander or introduce an information dump.

Instead, choose two to four points that successfully develop your idea.

You might briefly elaborate your points, but if you want your audience to stay with you, count them out — use “first,” “second,” “third,” to earmark the points.

  1. End with a call to action

You’ll want closure on your idea, so specify what you want the others in the room to do, or what you will do for them.

Every sale ends with an “ask,” and every time you sell an idea, you need to ask your audience to act upon what you’ve said.

Otherwise, there is no sale, no closure, and no impact.

A call to action can be a gentle suggestion of next steps (“I suggest we move to appoint a team to lead this initiative”) or it can be a more decisive rallying cry (“Given that we all want this program to move forward, let’s set out a timetable; appoint a team; and have a report on progress at our next meeting”).

At times your call to action can also be a self-delegated act (“I’ll take the lead on this”).

These five steps will enable you to play a leadership role in every gathering.

Your ideas will benefit the organisation, and you’ll help make meetings more exciting for everyone.

* Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a Canadian leadership communications firm. She tweets at @Judith_Humphrey.

This article first appeared at www.fastcompany.com.

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