Monday, August 21, 2000


Meetings successful if focused, planned

By Michael A. Crom
Gannett News Service

        Question: I've been in the professional working world for only a little more than a year. I work in marketing for a large company, and I just can't believe all the meetings I attend in a typical week — college didn't prepare me for business meetings.

        Most of the time I can see the value in the meeting and my managers do a good job keeping them short, but I feel as though I'm not contributing enough. I think I have good input to give, but I'm still a bit intimidated, and the few times I have spoken up I don't think I did a very good job.

        Mostly, everyone just ignored me.

        Answer: Welcome to the business world. Meetings are a fact of life. Sometimes we wish we could just sit down and do our jobs, then we realize that a job involves communicating to other employees and making decisions as a team.

        Even with today's technology, meetings often are still the best way to do that.

        As the new kid on the team, you aren't expected to contribute a great deal at most meetings, so don't be too nervous about your silence. Your job now is to learn and listen to everyone else.

        But you definitely will have ideas to contribute from time to time. Here's some tips to try to make sure your ideas are heard and taken seriously:

        1. Keep your point brief and focused on the problem. There is nothing more irritating than someone who starts rambling off onto tangential subjects or repeats himself. Discuss only the issue on the table. If you have a thought about a subject that's already been discussed, save it for a memo or another meeting.

        2. Ask questions instead of making direct assertions. If an associate makes a direct statement with which you disagree, don't argue, but ask why the person thinks it. If you use a curious and respectful tone of voice instead of an annoyed one, you can ask why without arousing resentment. It also enables you to find out why the other person feels that way and may provide you highly valuable information.

        3. Support your proposed solutions with evidence. If you feel you have the solution to a problem, avoid making claims. Instead, try one of the following:

        • Show how something works. For example, you might not like the design of a new press kit. Show how awkward the materials are to use by taking them out of the kit and unfolding them.

        • Give an example. You may not have a great deal of past experience, but you likely have some good examples from your coursework and textbooks. Make sure it's relevant to the situation, and it could be a good reminder to the meeting participants.

        • Provide facts. For example, if you're debating the merits of direct mail over broadcast television, look at the return on investment for each or past examples of successes with your targeted market. Statistics and other numbers also are good evidence.

        • Use analogies. Compare your latest marketing strategy with preparing for D-Day in World War II — it might cost a lot up front, but you'll eventually break the competition's resistance.

        • Solicit testimonials. If your role in the meeting is to suggest a course of action, come prepared with statements from others who have pursued that course in the past. Make sure they are appropriate to your discussion and testimonials are very persuasive.

        • Provide exhibits. When you are asked to make a presentation during the meeting, be sure to provide tangible items to look at and even hold. A mock-up of a product can go a long way toward explaining your ideas, for example.

        Contact Michael Crom via e-mail at


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