#446  from Innovative Leader Volume 9, Number 1          January 2000

Points On Making Points
by Dianna Booher

Dianna Booher is CEO of Booher Consultants, a Dallas-based communications training
firm that offers writing, oral presentations, interpersonal skills, customer service communications, and personal productivity/life balance topics (phone 800-342-6621; www.booherconsultants.com).  Her latest books include The Worth of a Woman's Words (Nelson/Word, Nashville, TN, 1999) and Communicate with Confidence! (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1994).

The question is not "to meet or not to meet."  The question is how to make the most of those meetings that you do attend. Meetings need not be the boring, repetitive, and work-generating events that professionals have learned to tolerate.  They can be an excellent vehicle for airing grievances, debating policies, and proposing new ideas while key staffers and decision-makers are assembled and attentive.  To the attendee who has something to say and can communicate it effectively, there is no more opportune time to make a point-and an impression.

Take the stage; don't just drift in.  When you intend to present an idea, take stage just as a performer does.  None of this "Just a minute, before we continue.  I've been thinking about something for a while." Or "I'm not saying I disagree with what has already been said, but here's just another thought about how we could approach the issue..."   Shakespeare was right, all the world is a stage.  Those actors who wait for the opportune time or fearfully cower in the wings never get noticed.  Those who confidently and competently play out their roles get the attention their ideas deserve.

Be conversational; don't move into "meeting mode." Regardless of the importance of the issue or the formality of the setting, use your conversational voice, not your lecture tone. Not: "It is imperative that I inform you..."  But:  "You all need to know that ..."  Not: "The research and development group of which I have been appointed chair, effective May 1, has asked that you be notified that the team is receptive to any and all proposals concerning..."  But: "On May 1, R&D asked me to chair a team to come up with a solution.  So, I'll need your input on ..."

Consider yourself in a multiple-person conversation rather than "addressing a group."  In most situations, that means you'll pause to let others speak or ask questions if necessary for clarification as you move through your ideas.  You'll use the "we" and "us" approach rather than "you" and "I."  You'll use terms everyone understands instead of lapsing into jargon.  You'll make eye contact with everyone around the table and not read from notes or stare at the floor.

Make a Strong Case

Present your proposal only one way and be specific.  It's natural to think that the more general you can make your idea, the more "hooks" you're creating for people to latch onto.  However, a broad, generally expressed idea usually has the opposite effect:  Everybody hears something they disagree with or can think of reasons why your suggestion won't work.

Instead, propose your idea succinctly, in only one specific way, and let it stand there in all its glory until people ask you to add details by their comments and questions.  Your proposals are far too important to leave to the guesswork of others.  And others are too busy to wade through generalities.  Give your ideas the best shot at being considered by being clear and concise.  Vague, undeveloped ideas will be quickly buried and unappreciated.

Listen to the counters to your proposal.  Don't get so carried away in preparing to defend your ideas, when a person raises an objection, that you miss what he or she says.  If you do, you may find yourself focusing on an issue that the other person has just conceded or failing to respond at all to the new issues raised. 

Active listening is not only polite, it is the most effective way of discovering the strengths and weaknesses of your ideas.  Listening provides key insights about the receptivity of others so you can provide appropriate responses.

End with impact.  When you present an idea, don't limp away with a sputter, drop your eyes, tune out with body language, or let others grab the floor and run away with your insights.  Instead, summarize your idea, mentioning the pros and cons discussed and any decisions made, and suggest the next follow-up step. The climactic car chase at the end of the movie, the compelling cross-examination by the prosecuting attorney to wrap up the case, and the last-second touchdown catch to secure a victory is what is most remembered.  Avoid a routine, anti-climatic ramble.  End with a wallop.

Your next meeting can be an opportunity to assert your views, display your expertise, and communicate your passion in front of the right people at the right time.  When it's your turn to take the stage, make it count.

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