I’m sure that you’ve been around people with tremendous social stamina. I have a few friends like that. When they are in the room, you are lucky to get a word in edgewise. I can’t compete with them. That is okay with me. When they are around, I can relax and enjoy the ride. I don’t get much attention and people think I am an introvert sometimes, but I don’t mind.
In contrast, I’ve been to a meeting that was being led by a person who wasn’t accustomed to leading a meeting. Clearly the person was not well versed in the art of conversation, or presentations. Normally this isn’t a big deal, but the meeting seemed to jump around and there were more “um”s and “ah”s than actual content. It bugged me a little, but I lived.
This is always so much worse when you are in a meeting, that is being led by [a person who doesn’t like to talk], and one of the people in the meeting, is [a person who really loves to talk]. The presenter is mumbling and stumbling until the yappy person just can’t take it anymore. Eventually he snaps and hijacks the meeting. Then whole thing goes awry.
While studying for my master’s degree, I attended one class where this happened. Some motor-mouth guy hijacked the class and proceeded to rant and filibuster for no-less-than 90 minutes. Meanwhile, everyone in the class was just aching and moaning. You could practically hear all of the eye-rolls and awkward repositioning of all 29 students, as “energizer mouth”, just kept going and going. We even missed our first (10-min) break time. Twice, I came “this close” to interrupting (and putting an end to it), but I figured that the professor was in-charge, so I left it to him.
I would like to offer four pieces of advice for this kind of situation:
- If you are in charge of a meeting, be prepared. If you are prepared, then the meeting will flow naturally. If it doesn’t flow well, then it indicates that you didn’t put enough effort into your preparations. If you need suggestions, try skimming through the book “The hamster revolution”. It is $8 and a half hour of your life (reading). It is a good investment.
- You do not need all of the filler sounds (um and ah). Break the habit of using filler sounds. Sometimes a dramatic pause (silence) will accomplish much more than all of those filler sounds. If someone mistakes those pauses for invitations to interrupt you, then just talk-over them. Yes, it seems rude, but they started it and it is YOUR meeting.
- If someone attempts to hijack your meeting, please put a stop to that behavior early. It is your meeting and you are in charge. So don’t be bashful about ripping the microphone out of someone else’s hand. Dial-back your manners for a few seconds and interrupt that wind-bag. Here are a few effective interruption sentences:
- Okay, thank you for your input. (and then quickly continue where you left-off)
- Let’s not get side-tracked. (wait a second-or two and then continue where you left-off)
- We have a lot of material to get through and we won’t cover it if we talk about this.
- Let’s save that conversation for another time.
- I can see that we need to discuss this further. Let’s take it off-line, after the meeting.
- Okay, I got it. Let’s get back to the topic for this meeting.
Sometimes, you have to use several of these statements (or all of them) to interrupt the person, until you regain control of the meeting.
If you run the entire list, then it is time to remove the gloves and use a stronger approach:
Use some strong body language (stand up, face the person, square-up your shoulders to theirs, look them in the eyes, raise your index finger like you are telling them to “shush”.
- Seriously, knock it off. I need to continue.
- Listen, I will get to your questions at the end of the presentation
- I’m going to have to ask you to hold your comments until the end
- If you have ever been treated in the above manner, then you talk too much and need to hold your tongue more. Try to use the following rules to help pace yourself:
- Imagine that you have to pay $5 for each sentence that you utter. How much is in your pocket? How much money are you ready to cough-up?
- Better still, imagine that you have to pay $2 per person in the room, per sentence. If there are two people in the room, no biggie. If there are twenty people in the room, that is $40 per sentence. Don’t blow your paycheck in one meeting.
- If the person leading the meeting is doing a bad job, just drop it. No meeting lasts forever.
- If you need to discuss a different topic or agenda, then schedule your own meeting.
- If you have important things to add, but you are somewhat timid, don’t worry about it. You can save your words until after the meeting and everything will be fine. If people are making decisions in the meeting (that cannot be changed afterwards), then speak-up, but don’t get carried away. Pick your words, say it and then count on your colleagues to back you up. If they don’t, then you can always suggest that you and another person should have a side-discussion later, because you don’t want to derail the meeting.
One final note: This advice, pretty much, applies to peers and people who are one rank above you. If you are getting interrupted by a VP or CEO, I would strongly discourage you from telling him to “zip-it and take a seat”. Instead, check out the book “Getting to Yes”. It is a much better way of interacting with a VP.
- Be prepared
- Make sure your words are tuned (practiced & chosen) to deliver the best value
- Treat your words as if you have to pay to speak them.
Okay, go out and be excellent in meetings. Try not to torture anyone else with your words.