Jack Downton, Accountancy Age, Thursday 23 September 2010 at 00:30:00

Get your point across in meetings without competing egos causing chaos


In Japan, it is not uncommon for business meetings to be held with allattendees standing up: no table, no chairs, everyone in a circle. The reason whyis straightforward ? with no distractions, no unnecessary comforts, the meetingis efficient.

Not so in meeting rooms up and down the UK ? chairs on wheels that swivel andslide, discussions that go way off course, chirruping iPhones and BlackBerrys,tea, biscuits; chairing a meeting is a skill in its own right. How can youensure you get the best out of a meeting?

Ahead of any meeting, ensure all attendees receive an agenda and askparticipants if they would like to add anything. You don?t want to be tooprescriptive, but an agenda will keep meetings focused and insure that all theimportant points are addressed.

First rule: phones off. Schools across the country have banned mobile phonesfrom class and businesses would do well to follow. This is difficult. Everyonelikes to believe they are indispensible but, if the meeting is important, itshould command undivided attention. A successful chair will ask at the beginningif anyone is expecting or has to make an important call and will schedule breaksaccordingly.

Accountants will often have to attend, or even chair, a meeting ofparticipants with competing positions. You need to be able to overcome thedifficult behavior of others so that you can contribute fully, whatever yourrole. One trick that works is to use the person?s name, make eye contact, leanforward and perhaps extend your arm across the table as if you are about to?rabbit chop? the table, and then in your normal voice say: ?Peter, youinterrupted me.? And then make your point.

Handling distracting behavior can be dealt with by stopping conversationcompletely, and is particularly effective if you stop mid-sentence, or evenmid-word. Those in their own discussion will quickly realise the meeting is onhold because of them.

Finally, to make a point in a meeting you must know your point. Work out whatit is before you open your mouth. When answering a question the cardinal ruleis: make the answer the first thing you say; elaborate briefly and then shut up!A guiding principle for the length of answer is thirty seconds.

Jack Downton is managing director of The Influence Business