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6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings

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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

More by this author

Conor Neill

Professor of Leadership, President Vistage Spain

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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