How marketers can be effective in meetings

Sometimes people feel awkward because they go to a meeting and have nothing to say. They worry that more senior people at the meeting will feel they are out of their depth. Yet they see others take leading parts in those meetings, and wonder what it is that they are lacking.

This is a perfectly common way to feel and can be part of imposter syndrome. Whether that’s how you feel or not, there are some techniques to improve your effectiveness in meetings.

1. Be clear in your own mind about the reason for your attendance

It’s perfectly fine to say nothing in a meeting if you are there because you need to implement the decisions of the meeting, or you’re there to gain information so you can update project plans. Others at the meeting will appreciate the new project plan or the fact that the has project has been successfully completed.

While you might think, if you don’t say anything, that others think you are inadequate somehow, others normally just think you’re there because you’re doing the grafting on the project.

Some people go to meetings because it makes them feel like they are working or it gives them a sense of importance – these are bad reasons to go to them. They can also stop you rolling your sleeves up and getting on with work, and rob you of the time to think.

Dov Frohman, the founder and first General Manager of Intel Israel, says: “Every leader should routinely keep a substantial portion of his or her time – I would say as much as 50 percent – unscheduled. … Only when you have substantial ‘slop’ in your schedule – unscheduled time – will you have the space to reflect on what you are doing, learn from experience, and recover from your inevitable mistakes. Leaders without such free time end up tackling issues only when there is an immediate or visible problem.”

Or as Tom Peters puts it: “Overscheduling is stupid/couterproductive/juvenile.”

2. Prepare

If you’re not saying anything because you have nothing to say but feel you should, this can be fixed with some preparation.

Those of us who’ve spent years in work have a data bank of past experiences to draw upon, but if you’re earlier in your career, you can’t rely on that so much. So the trick is to prepare more for meetings than more senior people.

Think about data or reports you could look up on how other businesses have approached a problem. What information could help improve the quality of the decision making? If the meeting is to discuss marketing a new product, could you bring some SEO research on what relevant search terms get the most traffic? Most importantly, read any circulate PowerPoint decks or other documents in advance of a meeting, which will get you thinking.

It may be that you have more time that the more senior people attending, so look for opportunities to present. Speaking to a PowerPoint deck can be a more structured way of contributing to a meeting, and a good way to add value.

3. Don’t worry about looking silly

If you’re keeping quiet because you worry that you’ll look stupid, I can let you into a little secret. We’ve all been there – and having someone disagree strongly with what you’ve suggested is just a part of life. Over time, experience and a thick skin come to play.

As Winston Churchill put it: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Many years ago, I was in a meeting where Stuart (not his real name) gave an impassioned argument for why we should do something. Everyone sitting around the table looked at each other looked confused, and then someone pointed out that we had, in fact, already done what was being proposed. Stuart went red, embarrassed by gaffe, but soon after was promoted and has subsequently had a hugely successful career. The point is that experiences like this are not actually significant, even if they feel painful at the time.

I worked with an introvert who always had great analysis – but one-to-one rather than in meetings. I worked out I could help but responding to his thoughts by asking him to bring the points up in the meetings.

There are tricks if you are not confident that your comments will gain support. One person often starts by saying: “I’m just going to think out loud” when she throwing out a new idea. It detaches herself from the views. Another is to make a suggestion as a question: “To what extend do you think x could have an effect?”

4. Take notes – but not too many

Note taking should be about actions and recording important feedback. There’s something disconcerting when you’re speaking to see someone writing every word you say down.

Roger Mavity, in the book Life’s a Pitch, suggests it indicates that people are not actually allocating any time to process what you’re saying, but just recording it, which is not what you want. But if someone takes down key points – for example, when you’re giving feedback on their presentation – it’s reassuring.

5. Take and deliver actions

We’ve probably all come across the odd individual who seeks to push all their work onto others and never takes an action from a meeting, except to ask someone else to do something. It’s not a good place to be in as everyone quickly works out that they lack a work ethic.

Amusingly, in one job I witnessed someone deliberately orchestrating for two of these “work-pushers” to collaborate on the same project. She had great fun watching them send emails to each other backwards and forwards trying to push their work to the other. Eventually, as time ran out, they realised that they had to actually do some of the actions themselves.

Obviously, being a “work pusher” is not the way to be, and if you take and deliver actions as a result of a meeting, that’s a good indication that your participation was worthwhile. Just avoid being one of those people whose actions are always to ask someone else to do the work.