In a Business Meeting: How, When and What To Say So That Your Participation Is Acknowledged
The ability to speak at business meetings is a very important skill. In consulting, you have to speak all the time – when solving problems at internal team meetings, at the client’s, and during large workshops.
Your silence will most likely be treated by your manager as you adding ‘zero value’ already in the first days of your work on a project.
However, not every consultant can have sufficient background knowledge about the client’s issue at first. They may not be an expert in this field, or have not yet had time to dive into the context, or joined the project only a few days ago! But regardless of the circumstances, if you are to attend a client meeting, it’s worth planning how you will participate in it. The advice that can be given here is to focus on support actions. Here are the responsibilities that you can take on:
- Keep track of the meeting timing
- Be in charge of the figures
- Summarize key points on a flip chart
- Ask clarifying questions
- Repeat the next steps
- Compare the current case with the client experience from other areas
Keep track of the meeting timing
This is the simplest way you can support a meeting when everyone gets immersed in the presentation and discussion of some important calculations while not paying attention to the timing of the event. It is worth reminding participants at some point whether they have discussed all of the issues in the plan. If so, the meeting could be drawn to a close by moving on to the next steps. In difficult negotiations, time management adds real value.
Be in charge of the numbers
If you are an analyst and have been preparing calculations for the upcoming meeting, be ready to help with the numbers. Even experienced managers cannot keep all the numbers in their heads, especially if they are managing several projects. And understandably so! This is where your help will come in handy – e.g., take responsibility for providing accurate data or for detailing steps in a workflow.
Summarize key points on a flip chart
This is the easiest way to show that you came to the meeting not to sit out, but to help the team. All you need to do is stand and write down the key points on the board or flip chart while listening to the discussion. Watch for when the discussion becomes less intense or when the participants have finished discussing at least five or six main items on the agenda. At this point, you could invite both parties to look at your notes to check their conclusions and eliminate any disagreement. It must be pointed out that this is a very useful type of activity for both the participants and for you. By practicing summarizing what has been said, you learn to understand and capture the essence.
Ask clarifying questions
This practice can be useful as a follow-up of the key points. E.g., a heated discussion can be broken down with questions such as “Could you clarify your point?” or “Please share some examples from your experience”.
Repeat the next steps
The next steps are usually determined and followed up by the person who led the meeting and is well immersed in the client’s case. Sometimes meetings end without determining the next steps. But most often participants simply forget to clarify who will be doing what next. This is where you can help, but it is important, however, that you carefully listen to all contributors during the entire meeting and understand that something is missing by the end of the meeting. As you align the next steps, remember that they should be set as clearly as possible.
Compare the current case with the client experience from other areas
At McKinsey, senior partners share insights from other industries. The client may be very interested, e.g., in how Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy has been applied in the pharma industry. While this is the most difficult of all the suggested options for participating in a client meeting, it can take you to a new level of the client’s confidence in you and your knowledge.
So, participation in business meetings is one of the key aspects of your work, and you must have a clear understanding of how, what and when you can say during a meeting. This skill builds confidence in you which automatically spreads to other areas of your work; in addition, you ‘grow’ in the eyes of your team. People will undoubtedly pay more attention to your and what you say. But do not confuse meaningless comments made for the sake of a comment with well-thought-out actions. So always think before you say something.
Tip: Focus on bringing a deeper vision of the problem and solution to the discussion rather than on making a helpful comment in order to get noticed. It plays an important role in making decisions and definitely adds value.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that in addition to the “speaking up” concept (i.e. the ability to make useful comments during a meeting), McKinsey also encourages the “raising the issue” behavior (i.e. when comment leads to further discussion of the problem or disagreement with someone’s point of view). If, during negotiations, you clearly understand that some conclusion of any of the stakeholders is misguided, you should not wait for the last decisive moment to express your disagreement or uncertainty about the presented arguments. The Firm calls this concept an “obligation to dissent”.
I teach consulting approach to problem solving, corporate communications, idea structuring in business documents and writing presentation slides using PowerPoint and Think-cell