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7 Mistakes We All Make In Meetings

August 02, 2019 | Filed in: Your Career

Meetings: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are an inescapable fact of office life. And while they can sometimes feel like a waste of time (why do they always seem to pop up when you’re on a roll with something?), they’re also the perfect setting for showing off your skills and ideas to a large group of people. “Meetings are an opportunity to sell your brand and change what people say about you when you aren’t in the room,” says Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., author of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office and president of Corporate Coaching International. Be impressive in a meeting and you’ll find yourself getting tagged for bigger projects and more important discussions—steps that will ultimately help with your next promotion. 

Of course, navigating a meeting can be harder than it looks. Keep reading to see if you make any of these way-too-common mistakes (and what to do instead).

1. You slink into the room.

People start to assume things about who you are from the moment they see you, so enter the conference room exuding confidence. “Walk in with good posture, shoulders back, and head held high,” says Carol Kinsey Goman, a leadership presence coach for women. “You want to look like you know, without a doubt, that you belong in that room.” And don’t be in a rush to find your seat right away. Greet others with a quick word and, if possible, a solid handshake. “Having a nice, firm handshake makes people see you as being confident, assertive, warm, and likable, all at the same time,” says Goman. “Say something like ‘so nice to meet you’ or ‘nice to see you again’ before you let go—that extra beat of physical contact is really important.”

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2. You sit in the wrong seat.

You’re confronted with a room full of chairs—which one do you claim? This is when you might make a crucial misstep. “When it’s a full meeting room, women will often take a chair on the edge,” says Frankel. “But if you aren’t sitting at the table, you aren’t at the meeting.” You should also make sure your seat is clearly visible to the most important person in the room. “Sit right next to them if possible!” says Frankel. “You might assume you should leave that seat for someone more important than you, but that makes no sense.” What to do if you arrive and there aren’t any good seats left? Frankel recommends asking people to shift slightly so you can squeeze one in (and next time, get there early enough so that’s not an issue).

3. Your body language is off.

The key here is adopting what’s known as a power posture. “I coached a woman who said that nobody paid any attention to her in meetings,” says Frankel. “I asked her how she sits, and she said she sits back in her seat with her hands folded in her lap.” That demure posture was doing her no favors. “Instead, I told her to lean in with her forearms resting on the table, hands lightly clasped,” says Frankel. “That pose shows you’re ready to participate.”

4. You wait too long to speak. 

You may think you’re being polite by letting others speak first, but it’s a bad habit to get into. “If you don’t speak up, you fade into the background and let others take over the meeting,” says Goman. For women, this tends to be related to wanting others to like you. “Women often wait to speak because they don’t want to be seen as rude or pushy,” says Frankel. “You don’t need to be the first one to talk, but you should try to be among the second or third person to weigh in. Early speakers are viewed as having more self-confidence.” What if you just don’t know what to say? “Early in the meeting, ask a question or say a comment you’ve prepared in advance,” says Goman. Get people used to hearing your voice and it will be easier to say another thing, and another.

5. You use qualifiers. 

These are those statements like, “This may be a bad idea, but…” or “This is just my opinion, but…” and they immediately tell other people in the room that what you’re saying isn’t important. Once you know to look out for them, you’ll realize just how often they come out of your mouth.

6. You aren’t taking up space.

“Women tend to…let others interrupt them or jump in and answer a question directed at them,” says Frankel. Don’t let that happen! “There’s such a thing as a hip check in basketball—do the same thing in the meeting,” says Frankel. “Don’t let the other person get too far before you politely thank them for saying something, then explain that you weren’t quite finished yet. Being direct and straightforward and being liked aren’t mutually exclusive.”

7. You’re long-winded.

You’re going to lose your listeners if you take too long to get to the point. “Remember, you’re adding value through your knowledge, so the most important thing needs to be first out of your mouth,” says Frankel. Give a headline, then two or three pieces of supporting data and that’s it. “The more words you use, the more your message is softened,” says Frankel.

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Alice Oglethorpe is a former magazine editor who is now a freelance writer based in Chicago. She writes about health and happiness in life and at work. Read more of Alice's posts.

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