Use meetings as a forum to impress

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 January, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 January, 1993, 12:00am

AS A rule it takes time to win respect and admiration at most organisations. It can take your colleagues weeks or months to decide that you are a nice person.

But if it is instant recognition you crave, there is no better way than to do something absolutely brilliant in a meeting.

Like it or not, meetings are the forums where you are most often judged by your superiors and peers.

That may not be obvious from the collegial bonhomie that prevails in many meetings.

Everyone is ostensibly there to share information and form a consensus rather than to show off or triumph at someone else's expense.

Yet as someone who has spent a great deal of time running meetings, I can assure you that your performance is being judged.

Failure to heed this is like forgetting that your school teachers and professors graded you on ''class participation''.

A lot has been written about how to make sure the meetings you run go smoothly.

Here are some suggestions to make sure this happens: Beware the ad hoc meeting.

Most of us have enough good sense to be thoroughly prepared for the major meetings, the meetings called weeks in advance where we are expected to make a formal presentation.

If you cannot get ''up'' for these events, you'll never understand the importance of meetings.

However, some people do not have the same respect for ad hoc meetings, the internal meetings hastily called that morning or the night before.

Perhaps they think that a meeting convened on the spur of the moment does not require them to be brilliant on the spur of the moment.

On the contrary, these are the easiest forums to display your brilliance.

When everyone else is napping, you should be wide awake.

Surgeons like to say there is no such thing as minor surgery, only minor surgeons.

The same goes for meetings. There are no minor meetings, only minor participants.

Don't hide.

My friend Mr Ed Artzt, the chairman of Procter and Gamble, once surveyed a dinner meeting of senior managers at his company headquarters in Cincinnati.

When he spotted a top executive in charge of a struggling division sitting in the back of the room, he quipped: ''I guess you can tell people's business results by where they are sitting.'' Never try to hide in a meeting. If you want to hide, you're better off not going at all. Pick a position that says you want to be at the meeting.

Know your sightlines.

There are all sorts of theories about the optimal seating position in a meeting. They vary because seating arrangements vary.

At the standard rectangular conference table, the power is at the head and foot of the tables.

Round tables are the most democratic. Everyone can see each other. There are no power positions. All positions are equal.

Informal living-room arrangements around a coffee table are fairly democratic too (although I have noticed that the highest-ranked people always get the most comfortable seats).

If there is a lesson to be learned from these various arrangements, it is to pick a spot where you can make eye contact with as many people as possible, especially the person running the meeting.

If you are in the leader's line of sight, you're more likely to get his attention and get a chance to speak.

And when you speak, you will also be able to see how everyone is responding to your remarks.

Experts in meeting dynamics tell me that the dominant players, when speaking, tend to look at people more than other participants do. Eye contact is a great advantage in any public forum. Use it.

Resist the urge to dominate.

If you are invited to a meeting, you deserve a chance to be heard.

Chances are you will be asked for your opinion or expected to speak at some point in the meeting. Do not abuse it. That is, do not be so long-winded that the meeting suddenly revolves around you.

You may enjoy your protracted stay in the spotlight, but I doubt if anyone else will.

The longer you speak, the greater the risk that the leader will cut you off.

Defend your people and yourself.

There is no way to predict the impressions that people take with them from a meeting. But I know that people always remember an argument.

They can vividly recall how one attendee attacked another and, more important, how that person defended himself.

Sometimes that is all people talk about after a meeting.

That is an irony not everyone appreciates. Having someone attack you or your people in a meeting is sometimes your greatest chance to make a strong impression.

Everyone will be alert. Everyone will be watching you. Do not let the attack go unchallenged. Do not let the moment pass you by.