How to make influential contributions in your business meetings

Ga Lok Chung

By Ga Lok Chung, Toastmasters International

Do you ever come out of a meeting wishing you’d said something that you thought but didn’t say? Perhaps you said something, but it didn’t come out the way you wanted, or people didn’t take it seriously?  You want to be in a position to get your message across and make an impact in all your business meetings.

Here are some tips to help you make an influential impact and leave a lasting impression.

Connect with your audience

When making a contribution, a common mistake is to focus on exactly what you plan to say. Consider what the audience needs to hear, and how much they already know about the topic first. By understanding your audience and explaining your ideas in a way that connects with them, they can then experience and visualise the impact of the message. 

For example, if the meeting is a budget review, and the objective is to reduce costs, you need to explain how your idea will make a difference to outgoings and the overall budget. 

Build on previous speakers’ input

Why do people talk in a meeting? The answer is usually to be heard and understood. What do people do after they’re certain they’ve been heard and understood? Generally, they listen to the person who heard and understood them first. Building on what someone else has said creates continuity that makes it easier for others to follow what you are adding to the discussion. Paraphrase what the person said that relates to your point. Mention their name if this point was made earlier in the discussion and include a pause in case they want to clarify. This is an effective technique when quoting the decision maker or influential person in the room, but make sure you’re adding something substantial, otherwise constantly quoting others can come across as brown-nosing. 

Seek explanations

Imagine, you’ve just heard something that you think is incorrect: 2 + 2 = 5.  ‘Idiot’, you want to shout, ‘it’s 4’. Whilst you are logically right, you should consider how to diplomatically correct them.  Start by letting others know the value you received from the discussion, it validates the contributions of others. It’s also rare, so people appreciate it. ‘I think I’m clear about you’re saying’, and ‘I see it differently, could you clarify it further’.

When you disagree, say so, as others might be thinking the same think but are afraid to point it out. Introduce your comments in a way that helps the other person hear your view. Whilst ‘I don’t get it’ is direct, ‘could you explain that to me again’indicates your support, and encourages better discussion.

Adapt your body language

If you’re hunched over, or speaking softly, people may not take notice of what you say or they may not take you seriously. How you position and move your body not only affects how you speak; it also affects how you come across. 

When speaking, set yourself up so that:

  • You are sitting up and forward. Practice leaning in slightly and not using the chair’s backrest
  • Smile and make eye contact with everyone around the table as you make your point. Online, remember to look into the camera, not at your screen
  • Start with your hands on the table. Then bring them up to use open hand gestures to emphasise points. In online meetings, position your camera so that people can see your hands making gestures.

Your state of mind

Making an impact is about more than what you say and how you say it – although both are important. It’s about your mentality. And nothing detracts from making an impact like undermining yourself. 

Remove apologetic language like ‘I’m sorry, I might be completely wrong here.’ Tentative language may be appropriate during a brainstorming session, for example, but not when you’re trying to be perceived as decisive and an expert.

Use pauses. You can say, ‘Let me think,’ or ‘I’ve a suggestion,’ while piecing your thoughts together. These phrases buy time until you’re ready to present the ideas and they get people ready to listen to you.

Finally

Whether you’re responding to someone else’s presentation or answering questions after yours, you don’t have to sweat it when you want to make a contribution.  Practice with your trusted colleagues, friends or in places such as a Toastmasters clubs that provide a safe environment to practise in.

Gaining the skills to make impactful contributions is vitally important for your business/career. It will demonstrate your credibility and composure and lead to the impact and influence you need for success.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ga Lok Chung is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org

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