After a long flight to Tokyo Japan, the sight of two thousand people in the audience for keynote speech at the technology conference was impressive. The presentation moved along slowly as frequent pauses enabled the interpreter to convert the original English spoken and written on the slides into Japanese. After twenty minutes or so, it appeared that two thousand heads were resting on their shoulders as the entire audience had fallen asleep. The interpreter insisted they were listening and not sleeping, so please to continue. After all the effort and time to prepare and travel halfway around the world only to meet a sleeping audience, the last thirty minutes of the talk were sheer drudgery.
How you participate in meetings has a direct effect on the motivation and level of engagement by other people in the meeting. Technology has become an excuse to continue whatever you were doing outside of the meeting, while the meeting is in progress. A prospective customer does not want to stare at the back of your laptop screen and watch you type away while they are attempting to build a relationship with you. You can try to justify this laptop behavior by suggesting that you rely on the laptop to take notes during the meeting. The problem is your notes do not impress the people on the other side of the table.
Smart phones are equally offensive. Yes, you hold the phone below the table and cast your eyes downward to read it. Somehow, you believe the other people in the room don’t notice that you are busy tapping away at the small screen in front of you and not engaging in a conversation with them. All they see is someone who appears to be focusing on something other than the most important people and conversation in the room. Your behavior suggests to them that whatever is going on in front of you is far more important than they are. Clearly, that’s a serious mistake.
The first good step to active participation is assuring that you remove distractions, such as those from laptops and smart phones, from the conversation. Of course, active participation reaches far beyond simply removing distractions. Focus your attention on the other party or parties in the meeting. Ask insightful questions to demonstrate your interest in them and their business needs. Acknowledge the key points they are making to encourage them to continue sharing. Ask for clarification if they say anything that might seem slightly ambiguous or unclear. If you are delivering a presentation in a meeting, make sure the audience is following along and getting the key points you are communicating.
Avoid talking incessantly to show how much you know. All that does is confirm that you are not listening and that your focus is on yourself. Launching into an endless scripted speech without engaging the audience with questions and clarifications will certainly turn them off. Watch their body language for signs that they are reacting to what you are saying and use those as cues to expound further or ask questions. The more you demonstrate your care about their success, the more they will learn to respect and trust you. Active participation builds trust, which in turn builds solid relationships.