My top tips to thrive in a culture of constant meetings

thrive in a culture of constant meetings

Do you sit in meetings feeling anxious about what you contribute or wondering if it’s the best use of your time? Have you ever sat waiting to get a word in and then the meeting is over before you’ve had a chance to speak? I think, for too many people, meetings get in the way of getting the important work done. After running a workshop on speaking up and making the most of meetings last week, I thought I’d put my top tips for better meetings down in a blog.

Say no to meetings

I know this might sound controversial but it’s perfectly acceptable to say no to a meeting request. Even if it’s from a very senior important person. Your time is important – you only have a certain number of hours in the day and you must use them wisely. Meetings can suck huge chunks out of your day. So before you say yes make sure that you are clear on the following:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting? What does success look like? For example, to discuss the blah project and decide on timelines, roles and responsibilities.
  • Understand your role in the meeting – why are you invited, what are you there for? If it’s just for information, I’d challenge if you need to be there. Could you get updated on the ‘information’ in a more time effective way like on an email or a quick briefing? Only when you are clear on the purpose of the meeting and your role can you make a decision on whether it’s a good use of your time to attend.
  • If you’re calling the meeting, clearly brief the meeting attendees on the purpose of the meeting and their role. Consider how long the meeting needs to be. Often we just keep talking until the hour is up. A quick-fire meeting could last 10 minutes and if you all stand up it can make it even quicker.
  • I’m a big fan of walk and talk meetings because they are quicker, it creates a
    better dynamic than staring at someone across a desk and walking is proven
    to help your thinking.

Do you ever lose your confidence? Be prepared.

Confidence is something that comes and goes and you have to be deliberate about keeping your confidence tank topped up otherwise it can run empty. When it comes to confidence for speaking up in meetings here are my top tips.

  • Prepare for the meeting – if you know why you’re going and what’s expected of you, you can do a bit of research. When you know your topic it helps you to feel more confident.
  • Give yourself time to breathe. Quite literally, take a few minutes to breathe properly before you go into a meeting. Breathe in and count to four and breathe out and count to four. Repeat.
  • Prepare – be early, bring water (for those nervous croaky throat moments) and go to the bathroom.
  • Turn up to work every day dressed appropriately for a surprise meeting with the most important person in the organisation, this way you are always prepared.
  • If you believe the research by Amy Cuddy, your body language can change your physiology and make you feel more confident. In your meeting pay attention to your body language. Sit up straight, shoulders . back, head upright. Don’t fidget and maintain eye contact.
  • Demonstrate you are actively listening by leaning in. Make eye contact. Use the phrase ‘yes and’ and words from part of the previous sentence when responding to show that you’re really listening.
  • Often we doubt ourselves, the critical voice in our head tells us we don’t know anything and we’re going to get found out. Form an answer in your head compared to what other people are saying in the meeting and when you start to realise that your answers are similar to other peoples it can help to build confidence.
  • Use a technique called anchoring. Remember a time when you felt confident, it could be a work or a personal situation. Remember how you felt in that moment. Practice reconstructing that moment in your mind to tap recreate those feelings of confidence. There’s more on anchoring here.

I always miss my opportunity to speak

It’s happened to the best of us, you hesitate, miss your moment, someone else speaks up, the moment passes and you don’t get to speak at all. You leave feeling a bit disappointed. When it comes to making sure you contribute I advise:

  • Give yourself permission to interrupt, remember you have been asked to the meeting for a purpose, It’s your job to contribute.
  • Lean into the meeting and raise your hand to indicate that you have something to contribute and make eye contact with the meeting chair.
  • Buddy up with an assertive person and work with them to introduce you, for example they might say something like ‘Dave had a good point about this topic’ providing you with a clear opportunity to speak.
  • Remember why you’re there – to share insight based on your unique set of skills and experience. It’s important for the outcomes of the meeting that you contribute.

I’m just too anxious to speak

For some, it can be incredibly daunting to speak up in a meeting and many people feel way out of their comfort zone doing it. If you ever feel like it’s just too scary to speak up, here are my tips:

  • Take small steps to get out of your comfort zone. For example, you might start by agreeing with someone else’s opinion as a way to find your voice rather than making a lengthy point yourself.
  • Ask more questions or ask for clarification. We can often feel anxious by asking what we feel might be a ‘stupid question’. In my experience, if you have a question you won’t be the only one and having the courage to ask it does everyone a favour.
  • Get networked – get to know people in the room, which can make speaking up less intimidating.
  • Tell someone else your thoughts ahead of time so they can introduce you.
  • Remind yourself that you are separate from the issue and you’re there to share your unique views to help move a situation or project along or come to the best conclusion on a problem.
  • Practice speaking up anywhere and everywhere, with friends, family and strangers. For example, when you order your coffee, at the supermarket or in the lunch queue. Say hello, start a conversation, talk about the weather it doesn’t really matter what you say. All these small steps add up to building your confidence for speaking up in meetings.

When I do speak I mess it up

Part of the fear around speaking up in the first place is that we’ll fail or get it
wrong. We perhaps fear that we’ll not represent ourselves well or ‘do ourselves
justice’ and this makes us feel bad. If this resonates with you then my tips are:

  • Speak in headlines – short direct sentences – this helps to stop rambling, which can easily happen when we’re nervous.
  • Listen in to your tone of voice and be careful not to end your sentences (that are not questions) with a questioning tone.
  • Don’t apologize, watch out for ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and don’t use filler words or words that do yourself down including, ‘just’ and ‘I could be wrong’
  • Take notes and write down what you’re going to say.
  • Set yourself goals, think about the most important information you bring to the meeting and set yourself a goal to just say that one thing.
  • Leverage your expertise and refer back to it when you speak. For example quote research or a time you’ve experienced something similar with great results.

Let’s agree to ban pointless meetings that suck great chunks of the day and exchange them for enjoyable, effective places where you can thrive. Aim to get the desired results in the shortest time freeing you up to achieve your task list and go home on time. If you have more tips for making meetings great again please
do share them below. Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results.

5 ways reading will boost your communication skills

5 ways reading boosts your communication skills

1) It gives us something to say

In a world where information is the new currency, reading is one of the best sources of continuous learning, knowledge gathering and idea sharing. Books and articles give us the ability to roam throughout the world, travel back in time and look to the future, affording us with a deeper view of ideas, concepts, practices, emotions and events. Reading can open your mind to new choices that you may not have known about or considered before. This is all information which we can then share with others.

2) It helps us understand other people

The first rule of effective communication is to know your audience. Reading about other people can help you understand them better. The same neurological regions of the brain are stimulated when you read about something as when you experience it. Unlike watching the television or listening to the radio, reading gives the brain more time to stop, think, process and imagine the narrative form in front of us. Therefore, reading can help put you in someone else’s shoes, to get inside their heads and experience the things they have. The more you understand someone, the more you can tailor your communications to what they need.

3) It increases our vocabulary

The more we read, the more likely we are to come across new words. Business books, in particular, have words and phrases that are unique to their topic. If you need to communicate with particular sectors and industries, understanding the language being spoken is essential. Otherwise, how are you going to know your CTR from SEO?

4) Reading strengthens the brain

And a strong brain means more effective communication overall. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. As we read, our brain decodes abstract symbols, makes connections, and conducts various visual and auditory processes. Indeed, multiple studies suggest that mentally challenging tasks, such as reading, help to maintain and build brain cells and connections between those cells, helping to preserve the memory and thinking skills.

5) Reading can give us the ability to make a point

The more we read, the more our brains are able to link cause and effect. The ability to communicate cause and effect is a central component of any argument, sales pitch, negotiation or story. As such, a well-written article or book will be structured in a way that helps us to think in sequence rather than jumping from point to point.

If you’re keen to read more, expand your mind and learn new stuff, why not join the Lucidity Network and participate in the business book club? Members have the opportunity to nominate their books of choice, and all discussion will take place virtually meaning you can take part no matter where in the world you are.

Membership of Lucidity Network is only open for a short time though so you need to get in quick. Join now so you don’t miss out.

If you’re already a member of the network and want to join the book club, drop Becky Slack a line to register your interest. She’s leading on the group and will be coordinating the reading list.

 

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.

Why this octogenarian is engaged

1942 photo of Genevieve (age 7) leading "Molly", the pony with two evacuees on her

At a Lucidity Network meeting, a member asked me directly why I am still so energetically engaged at age 83. I did give some reasons, but recognised that the answers are complex and that other people are surprised or puzzled at the level of my engagement. I decided that for my own and others’ sakes I should reflect on my motivators.

In Japan, in the 1970’s, I realised that I should record my personal observations about health and other experiences and that could be valuable to other people in the future. My accumulative and updating journal ‘Resources: sources and resources for occupational health’ in the 1980’s was indeed a practical attempt to make my professional observations available widely.

When I was elected as a councillor, in the London Borough of Hounslow, I decided that rather than health and education “which I know about”, I would do planning. Open House London offered excellent training as did TfL (Transport for London). Their training and ‘councillor‘ status gave me the confidence to contribute in other professional groups where I was often the only ‘political elected’ person or representative of local government.

Resulting from my research for Resources and beyond, I have followed threads on health, environment, third sector (for example NCVO), and others. I have done biblical translations and Bible-related content, and created a dictionary, that is to be available as open source, and is suitable for teachers and students of English as a second or additional language. I’ve followed KTN and Innovate UK from the early days. Since becoming a councillor, I have also engaged with local government and national government information sources.

After a long period of illness, pneumonia and sequelae in 2009-10 I started to engage or re-engage within something like a five-mile radius. I had moved to Hillingdon after selling my maisonette on the day that I had been elected as a councillor in Hounslow, so had not built strong local roots. The social worker at the hospital suggested that I join the U3A, an Age UK social group and activities at the local Leisure centre. I did those things.

To facilitate my rehabilitation, my church leader wanted me to re-order the church library and voluntarily work in the office each week, which I did. Supervision, feedback and related engagement were invisible. When the church’s new office and community room were being refurbished last year – that stopped. In spite of enquiries, the library is still in boxes, and there has been no discussion about possible resumption.

After being with the Age UK social group for over a year I moved to being a volunteer in an ‘Aging well’ group where I was able to express my creativity. I joined the U3A Science, Geology and Digital photography groups but gradually discontinued after about three years. Physical distance and the exclusive social climate discouraged me. After about three years I gradually desisted from both in favour of walking, especially in a short-lived walking group, that went outside my normal range.

As I regained confidence I cruised, to enjoy a Christian history theme, around the British Isles and eighteen months later cruised, with the same captain, to biblical sites in the Mediterranean. Both cruises were very personally affirming with great personal engagement.

I did attend some professional meetings, as earlier, and have continued that engagement that is growing again now. I started to attend some London Borough of Hillingdon meetings. However, still being a newcomer to the borough made engagement difficult.

I hosted a highly qualified nurse from Papua New Guinea for the six-month duration of her one day a week course in tropical medicine. We exchanged experiences and knowledge. We walked miles together and she was amazed as my ‘dead’ vine and other trees gradually displayed their full glory in the especially long spring. I saw our beautiful natural environment through new eyes.

While attending an older people’s consultation group at the Civic Centre I signed up to BORG (Brunel Older People’s Reference Group). That engagement has been very personally rewarding. BORG invited us to an event to discuss a research project (and they fed us). A few weeks later we get a letter describing the research project and participant requirements. If eligible, we were encouraged to sign up. When the study was finished we got an invitation to the report day. Several universities or other groups may get involved (and they feed us!). As the most proactive BORG member, I now attend lots of other events at the University and am gradually being rewarded by growing engagement and recognition.

I participated in a Brunel research study on loneliness in the elderly. I noted that digital photography was increasing the quality, intensity and interest of my observations, especially of the natural and built environment. That allowed engagement with the environment but not proper engagement with people, which was becoming more difficult.

I lost my closest female friend, my adopted brother’s wife, in 2009, and after five or so years in various care homes, my older sister and my former room-mate, in early 2018. So, the people who really knew me have gone.

When the Age UK ‘Aging well’ group closed I moved to a group of mainly Punjabi speaking women. where I join in the exercises, move lots of chairs, and usually play Rummikub ‘open handed’ with one to three group members.

There are sometimes two or more weeks in the summer and at Christmas when engagement stops. Yes, one does get invited out on Christmas Day. I usually carve the turkeys at St John’s, West Ealing for the ‘soup kitchen’ Christmas dinner but then go to a home for the rest of the day. I also call available people together for a muddy walk between Christmas and the New year, ploughman’s lunch and board games afterwards.

At some point, I realised that when I went to a meeting ‘in town’ (London), I built in exercise including cardio exercise by walking up the escalators and stairs. I also realised that organisers were glad to welcome and engage with attendees. Also, that at London meetings one often met with and could engage with leaders, especially, the professors at the BCS Women and related meetings. I use my Freedom pass and started to look for more frequent events ‘in town’.

Knowing that one will have one or more meaningful engagement in which one can offer some useful contribution brings me deep pleasure.

Thank you, Lucy and Lucidity Network, for enabling such purposeful engagement even between the physical meetings!

Genevieve is the oldest (and one of the most engaged!) members of Lucidity Network, if you need a hand reawakening your mojo come join our free Facebook community dedicated to clearer thinking for better results. You’ll also be privy to upcoming events and find out when the network is open to new members.

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network.

Do you know what people say about you when you’re not in the room?

the topic of personal brand.

We started from the premise that whether you want to develop your career in an organisation or build your own business (or make any kind of change happen) that a key skill is influencing the behaviors and decision-making of other people.

How people perceive you and what people think of you is all about your personal brand.

A personal brand isn’t about being something you’re not but more about being your best and authentic you. It’s about being deliberate in aligning how others perceive you and building your reputation with who you really are.

Everyone has a personal brand. Jeff Bezos famously described personal brand as ‘what people say about you when you’re not in the room’.

Where do I start with my personal brand?

To find out your personal brand, start with giving some thought to how you want to be perceived. What words do you want people to associate with you? How do you want to be described? Write it down. Then ask your friends who know you professionally for 5 words they’d use to describe you in a work context. Put the results into a word cloud. A word cloud is an excellent visual way of seeing how you currently show up. Is what other people say about you congruent with how you want to be perceived? If not, you have some work to do on your personal brand.

Don’t leave your personal brand at the door

I’ve written before about how people often leave their personalities at the door when they arrive at work because they are trying to fit in. If, in your work environment, you can’t be you, if you have to pretend to be someone else, you need to think carefully if you are in the right job for you, because therein lies the source of huge unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

The average person spends 80,000 hours of their life at work. You probably will spend longer. That’s far too long to be unhappy. Satisfaction at work comes from the people you work with and the organisational culture. That’s why it’s important to work in an environment that fits with your values and where you can be yourself.

Antoinette had some solid advice so you don’t end up in a culture clash. She suggests when you are contemplating moving jobs to find and talk to people in the organisation for an informal chat about what it’s like. These people will give you insights on the culture that you wont get from a job application or the recruitment page of their corporate website.

What if you’re an introvert and don’t feel comfortable ‘promoting yourself’

Introversion and extroversion are about where you get your energy from – yourself or other people. Building your personal brand doesn’t have to be shouting how great you are or showing off. We don’t recommend that! You have to build your brand in a way that adds value to your audience and feels ok for you.

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, build relationships strategically. Whether you are building a reputation internally or externally, think about who needs to know you and focus on building your reputation with them. Think about who you need in your ‘personal boardroom’. Focus on those people. Check out the book ‘Who is in your personal boardroom?’ for more detail on how to do this.

You also have a choice of whether it’s important to develop your reputation outside your immediate circle or not. For example, you can build your personal brand to a wider audience through public speaking, posting comments online, blogging or deliberate publicity. The benefits must outweigh the discomfort. When I first became a freelancer I decided that I needed to build my brand so people would know how I could help them. The pain of public speaking, blogging and creating publicity was worth the reward of a successful freelance career. It was really painful at first. I blogged for months before I actually shared a blog with anyone!

How you show up on social media is about being thoughtful as to how you want to come across, who your audience is and what you want them to think. How personal do you want to be? How much do your audience what you to share? A good litmus test is to think ‘What if that was written on the front page of the paper?’ or ‘What would my parents say?’ or ‘What would my children say?’

If you’d be unhappy for the press, your parents or your children to see the post – then don’t post it. Simple.

Antoinette’s advice is to consider if building your brand outside of your immediate circle is important that you do it in a comfortable way and break down the task into the smallest steps. For example, when posting on LinkedIn, rather than share your views on the Brexit shambles, you might choose to thank others for the work they’ve done with you this year. That way you’ve posted something, nothing is controversial and you’ve made other people feel good – and if one of the traits of your brand is ‘being thoughtful’ then you reinforce that too.

We like to be liked and our personal brand won’t suit everyone. And that’s ok. What’s important is that you are perceived in the way you want to be by the people that matter and that you are your real and best you.

If you’d like some help with building your personal brand, you might benefit from joining the Lucidity Network. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open to new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.

Make failure your friend

make failure your friend

Failure is one of those topics where there’s a big gap between knowing and doing. Rationally we know that it’s OK if we are doing our best, to fail, because by failing we learn valuable lessons that lead us to success in the future.

Yet, failure is not rational. Failure is highly emotional. Remember the last time that you failed at something that was important to you. How did it feel? Most likely it felt horrible. I know that if I’ve failed badly I almost can’t bear to talk about it and dissect it until a bit of time has passed and the pain has resided.

However, as Richard pointed out, it’s the ability to talk about the failure when you are still feeling it that has the potential to lead to the biggest learning. Like with many things its easier said than done, you need to have people to talk to in confidence about failure and work in an environment where you don’t fear the repercussions of failure.

Here are my eight take-aways from the interview

Make failure your friend and work on reframing your mindset on how you view failure. It’s not the enemy to be avoided. If treated with respect, failure can be your friend.

Tell stories of the failures in your organisation to help others learn. Tell stories to all your audiences, customers, supporters, internal teams. The learning from failure is more readily remembered and more importantly implemented as a story than facts and figures.

Set a BHAG. A Big Hairy Audacious Goal. This goal works best when it is organisation wide, however, if setting the organisation’s BHAG is not in your remit set your team one – or set an individual one. Setting a BHAG forces you to think differently. If your goal is to double sales you approach the task very differently than if your goal is to increase sales by 5%. A BHAG also shifts expectations. You are all working to smash your BHAG, however, if you fall short, it’s highly likely that you will have done better than the 5% incremental change.

Like Oscar Wilde said; ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars’

Give yourself and your team permission to fail. This is also easier when you have a BHAG. You can’t just tell people they have permission, you have to lead by example. For example, you might share learning from failure as a regular agenda item at team meetings. Everyone should have something to share, after all, if no one is learning from failure they are not pushing themselves hard enough to reach that BHAG. BHAG’s don’t just achieve themselves.

Go for a walk. The single best way I’ve found to clear my head, think straight and be more creative is to go for a walk. It can help you think through problems or if you take a colleague it can help you talk through problems.

With hindsight, Hindsight is a great thing. If I could choose a superhero power I’d be ‘Hindsight Hero’. EVERYTHING is easier with hindsight but we don’t have a crystal ball so the best we have is learning from failure. Your learning from failure is someone else’s hindsight – but only if you’re brave enough to share it.

Back to mindset. Start to frame problems in a more positive way. Rather than ‘This doesn’t work’ or ‘We tried that and it didn’t work’ ask ‘How might we make this work?’

And finally, construct your failure resume. List your career steps from the failures that have led you to where you are now.

The interview with Richard Turner can be watched at the Lucidity Network which is a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.