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6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings

6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings

In 2006, I was elected President of the spanish chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, a volunteer-led organisation for successful entrepreneurs. Honestly, I was a mix of emotion: both proud of the honour; but nervous that I would not be capable of leading the group.

Our first board meeting was chaos. There was a paper agenda, but I failed to keep people focussed on the agreed discussions. Each board member would throw their own opinion in for every small point. We spent almost 4 hours sucked into petty administrative details. It was tiring.

I learnt over the next 3 months that my way of running meetings was not effective. It was not only that we were not agreeing and taking decisions, we each left the meeting less motivated than when it began. This was a volunteer board.  If I had been one of the board members back then, I would have skipped as many meetings as I could.

“That’s it, I don’t need this crap. I am going to Quit”

I was on the verge of resigning the presidency, and of resigning as a member due to my frustration. I said to myself “I am paying for this, I am frustrated and members are blaming me for every little thing that doesn’t work out”.

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I attended a training session for new chapter presidents run by a wonderful Canadian entrepreneur. She began the training “There are two types of people in this room: the first have had a mission to become chapter president for years, have conducted a campaign with a clear manifesto, bring a team and are now celebrating the achievement of a multi-year goal; the second…  went to the bathroom at the wrong moment and came back to find that they had been nominated for president…  and still feel that they didn’t really ask to be in the role.”

She paused while we laughed “I don’t care which is your path. But you have a clear choice to make… You can spend the next year saying that you didn’t really choose this; or you can decide to make the role your own. This training is for those who chose to make the role their own.”

She got me. I knew that I was the “bathroom-at-the-wrong-moment” president, not the multi-year campaign. I knew I was waiting for others to step up and make things fun. I knew that I had abdicated any real responsibility for the role to others. I made a decision in that moment to go for it. I decided I had nothing to lose. I had mentally decided to leave the organisation, resign my role – so there was no “risk” to me if I decided to make things run “my way”.

Over the next 2 years, I learnt how to run meetings that get volunteers engaged, proud, active and delivering big results. What works for volunteers also works for corporates, universities and professional associations.

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The Golden Rule of Leading Anything

It is always the leader’s responsibility. If you lead a meeting and it is not fun, it is your responsibility to act. If somebody comes unprepared, it is your responsibility to act.  It does not matter whether you wanted to be the leader or did not want to be the leader; it does not matter whether the others are older, richer, wiser, better looking, sexier or taller: your role comes with full responsibility.

If you don’t accept the Golden Rule, go play tetris or candy crush. Don’t bother with the rest of this blog post.

The 6 Item Participant Checklist for Impressive Meetings

1. Participants Felt Heard

My girlfriend is brilliant at this. I can come home and rant about something stupid that happened at work. She listens. She listens without adding her judgement. Often, my rants are idiotic. (I think she knows…  She doesn’t say.) She isn’t aiming to fix me. She accepts that I am saying that I am frustrated, that something unexpected happened. After about 2 minutes of feeling heard, I realise that I am ranting and I let it go.

2. Participants Leave Energised

An hour of talking about problems is not an engaging hour. What inspires us? Big dreams. Great locations. People’s life stories. Progress. Celebrating small wins. Recognition of good efforts. A big bureaucracy trades in problems. A volunteer organisation trades in the gift of people’s time.

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3. Participants Leave with New Perspectives

John D. Rockerfeller, the richest man in the world back in the 1850s, was famous for his ability to look like he was almost asleep in a meeting… and then suddenly sit forward and ask a question that changed the whole dynamic of the discussion. A meeting leader is not the one with the best answers, a leader is the one with the best questions.

4. Participants are Proud to be Part of the Team

What teams are you proud to be part of? Teams that stand for something. I am proud to be a member of Barcelona Football Club. I love the values of teamwork that I see displayed on the field. I am proud to be part of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation because I am encouraged to dream bigger, to contribute more deeply. I am proud to be part of teams that are encouraging individual members to be the best version of themselves.

5. Participants Have Access to Necessary Resources

I had an interview back in 2005 with Sequoia Capital for a role leading the European division of a global insurance claims processing company. The founder explained their golden rule: if somebody fails to achieve a goal, we place 90% of the blame with their boss. There are only 3 reasons why somebody fails to achieve a goal:  1. they were not clear on the goal (bosses fault) 2. they didn’t have access to the resources necessary (boss fault) and 3. they were not motivated (50% their fault, 50% boss fault).

6. Participants Have Desire to Deliver on Specific Actions

Two parts to this one: desire and specific. Nothing is a greater waste than giving a vague action to a person who sees no purpose to the action. As a leader, you must work to help people see how they personally and professionally can benefit from the action. As a leader, you must work to ensure that the individual understands exactly what success will look like and how they can take the steps necessary.

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The Choice you Must Make, The Golden Rule

Whether you became leader by deliberate action or by accident; whether you conducted a multi-year campaign or left for the bathroom at the crucial moment – you have a choice: wait for a magically sign from the sky or take responsibility now to change things that you do not love. The Golden Rule: If you don’t like it, remove it, change it or step down as leader.

Featured photo credit: Stéfan via flickr.com

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Conor Neill

Professor of Leadership, President Vistage Spain

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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