Work is hard. Life is hard. And work/life balance is hardest. In an age when life moves at lightspeed, wasted time is the enemy. For many, nothing embodies wasted time more than the blight that is the dreaded meeting. There are countless articles warning how this time-sucking activity is ruining our lives and destroying the universe itself.
But a well-run meeting can not only share valuable information, it can provide a human element that helps build and maintain a strong, productive team... and yes, Dear Readers, it can be fun! As a communication skills coach, I confess that I’m a bit biased towards face-to-face interaction, and as a recovering performing artist, I’m insanely biased towards fun and engagement, so here are my thoughts on how to make meetings less time-consuming, more productive, and yes, yes, yes… fun.
Engage in Meetings with “The (YOU) Focus”
One thing you can do right now to make your meetings more successful is to switch to a very deliberate and conscious “YOU” (audience) focus, whether presenting ideas or leading a discussion for a big or small group. What does this look like? In meetings with the (YOU) focus, the meeting leader is committed to the audience’s need for engagement as much as to the meeting’s content. The meeting leader demonstrates the (YOU) focus by the physical and vocal choices she makes in front of the room. If the (YOU) focus guides the planning of a meeting, the thought process might be:
“We all are busy, so how can I make this meeting as engaging and informative as possible so YOU don’t fall asleep from meeting boredom and YOU get the info you need to move work forward?”
Here are the top three body language tools you can use to engage in meetings with the (YOU) focus and create your brand as Engaging Meeting Leader.
#1: Strengthen your connection with solid eye contact.
Eye Contact is your most powerful physical tool. Period. Most people know they need to make eye contact, but either it makes them nervous or they think they are making eye contact, but aren’t.
I’m talking about extended, connected eye contact where you really take in the eyes of a person in the audience. I’m talking about one on one conversations with individuals, five times, 50 times, 100 times. If you are scanning the crowd, looking at the floor, the ceiling, the slides… that’s not eye contact. Eye contact should feel deliberate and uncomfortable. If the poets are correct, the eyes are the window to the soul.
When you make extended, connected eye contact, you are saying,
“I’m not afraid of you, I care that you are getting the information you need, I am actively listening to your signals to make sure I’m on the right track and if I’m not, I’m ready to adjust so you get what you need.”
You want to establish trust through connection, not shy away from interaction. That’s the (YOU) focus in action.
#2: Leverage the power of the pause.
Pausing is your most powerful physical tool. Did I say that about eye contact, too? You bet. They are a power couple. Many of us tend to speak too quickly, and when we do, people shut down and stop listening. They have no time to process and instead become overwhelmed.
Pausing to let information sink in is the (YOU) focus.
When you deliberately pause, you reduce:
non-words/filler words (like, um, uh, so, and)
flubs and mistakes (gives you time to think)
Anxiety… you can breathe
And you increase:
gravitas and authority
clarity of messaging
When should you pause? Pauses are super powerful at the ends of sentences, in between list items, after asking rhetorical questions, and after important or vital information.
Lastly, if you talk too fast, fidget, or make fleeting eye contact, you exhibit low status body language. There’s a saying that goes:
“Fidgeting is for prey animals. If you’re fast, you’re food.”
Instead be calm and deliberate, like a lion.
#3: Learn to use your voice with powerful intonation.
Intonation is the special sauce that engages and motivates people. What is intonation, you ask?
Intonation is the highs and lows of voice tone and pitch that create emotional and grammatical clarity.
Use it! It is how the audience knows you care, and if you care, they care. Practice with kids books or poems, then use the same vitality to read The Wall Street Journal. Using vocal variety to engage the audience is the (YOU) focus.
Practice These Body Language Strategies
The bad news is this all has to be practiced. The good news is that you can practice anytime. Memorize the sensation of resting your eyeballs on friends at lunch. Get used to the uncomfortable feeling of silence by pausing in between every salad topping you order at lunch. Aim to be TOO crazy when you tell a story and discover that if you feel like it’s easy, you’re not using your voice enough, and if you feel cray-cray, you’re perfect.
So, Dear Reader, go forth and bring the (YOU) focus to all your meetings. Your team might stop derailing you, they might stop looking at their phones, and they might stop saying “No!” so much.
And maybe, just maybe, you all will have a little fun, too.
Editor’s Note: Listen to Stacee talk about about the (YOU) focus and how to use nonverbal body language to become a more powerful meeting speaker.