Monday, December 31, 2001

The Success Coach

Garner meaning from meeting

By Michael Crom
Gannett News Service

        Question: I am fresh out of college and in an entry-level position. I just can't believe all the meetings I attend in a typical week. College didn't prepare me for these business meetings. I'm so used to informal team meetings back in school where the atmosphere is more relaxed and ideas, comments and laughter are thrown around constantly. I want to conduct myself with more professionalism. I see value in the meetings and my managers keep them short and straight to the point, 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 have stuttered and ended up misrepresenting my ideas. Everyone mostly just ignored me and now I just keep quiet at the meetings.

        Answer: Welcome to the business world! Meetings are a fact of life. Sometimes we wish we could just sit down and do our jobs. And then we realize that our 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 reach quick decisions.

        As the new kid on the team, you aren't expected to contribute a great deal at most meetings, so don't be nervous about your silence. Also, don't be discouraged by the response you have received so far. Your job now is to learn and listen to everyone else. However, you will have ideas to contribute from time to time. Here are some tips 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. Only discuss and focus on the issue on the table. If you have a thought about a subject that's been discussed, save it for a memo or another meeting.

        2. Support every solution 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 promotion piece. Demonstrate how difficult it is to use the materials by displaying and indicating the disadvantages.

        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.

        Provide exhibits. When you are asked to present during the meeting, be sure to provide tangible items to look at and even hold. For example, a mock-up of a product can help explain your ideas easily.

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

        Use analogies. Say that your company would like to promote a new item and you have created a marketing campaign that your colleagues have deemed as too time-consuming. They want something faster, similar to what your competitors are doing. Compare the ultimate benefits of your proposal with running the tortoise race against the hare — slow and steady does it.

        Solicit testimonials. If you are suggesting a course of action, come prepared with statements from others who have pursued that course in the past. Make sure they are appropriate and persuasive to your plan.

        3. 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 believes it. If you use a curious and respectful tone of voice, 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.

        Michael Crom is executive vice president of Dale Carnegie Training. For advice on work issues, see or send e-mail to


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