How Much Should You Talk at Meetings?

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How Much Should You Talk at Meetings?

Meetings: as much as we may hate them they are unavoidable in most organizations, both public and private. In some industries meetings are very frequent. By one estimate middle management spends 35% of their time in meetings and upper management spend 50% of their time in meetings. Even if you are not in management meetings are often frequent. There may be as many as 25 million meetings per day in the US alone.

Some people say very little at meetings. Others say much more. How much should we say? A 2011 study found that too much discussion can dilute the purpose of a presenter at a meeting. Say too little and you lose influence and miss the opportunity to add value to the discussion. Say too much and you risk diluting your message due to redundancy or you alienate others who do not have a chance to get a word in.

It All Starts with the Agenda

If a meeting is well run it starts with an agenda. An effective chair for the meeting will keep the discussion to the agenda unless there is a compelling reason to depart. Before you attend a meeting study the agenda. It may also be a good idea to look over the last couple minutes for past meetings to refresh your memory on what has been decided previously. If the chair fails to keep the meeting on task consider a polite reminder that there is limited time and you have an agenda to get through.

A Word About Personality Types

People are very complex and no label adequately describes their personalities. However in a general sense most people tend to be more introverted or extroverted. Know where you land on that scale. It is OK to say less if you are more comfortable saying less. Likewise, if you are a natural extrovert and have a more irrepressible personality you can only suppress that so far. Either way you will be more effective if you plan your approach in a meeting.

Listen First, Speak Second

There is an advantage to listening before speaking. When you listen first you may find people are already in agreement with your position on agenda items and you will not need to waste time arguing when there is no argument. If you find people taking positions that concern you it is better to listen to what they have to say and what their justifications are. You may need to modify your own position in light of what you hear.

Pick Your Battles Carefully

Most meetings offer several opportunities for debate or differences of opinion. If there is a battle over each agenda item however the meeting will be less effective and leave people alienated and discordant. Decide in advance what is really important to you and let the rest go. As the meeting develops unless you see things going in a direction you believe is very wrong it may be best to let it go. There is little to be gained by arguing about every little detail.

Avoid Time Wasters

We have all suffered through the story tellers. These are often people who have been around for a long time and feel compelled to tell long stories about what happened years past. For many people it is just boring, for others it is irrelevant. What was done ten years ago may have little relevance today. The world is changing fast. If it is important to recount a past incident keep it as brief as you can and be clear about how it is genuinely relevant today.

While a little levity now and then can loosen up a meeting and keep things engaging avoid too many jokes. Meetings take a lot of time out of people’s days and they do not appreciate their time being wasted.

Be Positive and Constructive

Whether you find yourself in support of a proposal or in opposition you will have more influence if you can be positive in stating your position. Offer an alternative solution rather than just opposing what someone else says. Positive and constructive contributions will be appreciated more and will increase your overall influence.

In my 40 year career I’ve attended over a thousand meetings and have chaired many of them. I’ve found I fail to be effective when I failed to obey the suggestions I list here. Being thoughtful and constructive will lead to a much better result and a more enjoyable meeting.

Meetings are often unnecessary and may be seen as a waste of your time. However if you approach them with some constructive planning you can get the most out of the time spent.

So how much should you talk at a meeting: enough to get your ideas across and contribute to finding solutions. More than that is likely to be counter-productive.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.
www.danielrmurphy.com

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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