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Some guys make it to the top, and others stop in the middle. Let’s leave aside the unfortunate few who, after years of trying, stay on the bottom. I’m going to assume you’re not one of those people, simply because you’re reading this magazine, which is for winners.
For a good example of the top dweller, look at my buddy Gavin. Gavin was monster rich by the time he was 40. Then he started over again and became disgustingly rich by the time he was 50. So what distinguishes Gavin and all the Gavins like him from the run-of-the-mill not-Gavins in the corporate hive? It’s his capacity to meet. When other men reel away from the table and say, “Help! No more!” Gavin is just settling down to the second half of a three-hour meeting. He has breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, meetings over drinks and dinner. He’s a meeting machine. The fact is, every high-echelon potentate I know has big, hulking meeting muscles. And there’s no reason you can’t have them too – if you adopt the following habits of highly effective meeters then you too can become a whiz at meetings.
1. Start Off With
A Lighter Load
Before he started talking to empty chairs, Clint Eastwood was delivering some of the greatest lines ever uttered by men in the history of film. This includes perhaps the excellent piece of advice for those who want to move forwards instead of sideways in life: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Imagine the human suffering that could be eliminated if we all adopted that wisdom!
In this case, it means knowing the number and length of meetings you can handle at this stage of your development. When I was younger? Two a day, tops. Any more was torture. After a while I decided to be more selective and schedule only meetings I was interested in. I adopted a snappy tone so people knew I had more things on tap than this one get-together. So don’t try to bench more meetings than you can handle, or you’ll hurt yourself.
Alternatives? There are so many! Two-minute chats in the men’s room, nice exchanges over coffee, swift hits in the elevator. Trap yourself in an airless room only when (a) you have to, or (b) you want to. People who clog their days with meetings are losers.
2. Understand Why
Every meeting has a reason for being, even one that has apparently no reason for being. Some organisations hold meetings just to figure out what to do. Some managers call them because that’s how they best control others.
Your goal in most cases is threefold: (1) to make a contribution of some sort; (2) to not disgrace yourself; and (3) to leave the room with no one thinking any less of you, and possibly more. So before you enter the room, think. Think about your strategy. Sit and not talk much? Do a lot of listening and look for an opening to shine for a moment? Get up on your hind legs and kick somebody’s ass? Whatever you do, don’t just go in there and suffer. Like all things in business, the brass ring goes to the guys who go into everything with a posture, a plan and the balls to execute that plan.
3. Make It Fun
Great meeters contribute in such a way that people are glad they’re there. Most of the time, it’s not about jokes. In fact, a guy who tells a joke at an open meeting is either a fool or a professional comic. It’s about making the group feel more like a team of friendly ponies all pulling the same sled up the hill.
Gavin had a gift for this. He would be sitting at a table full of the driest, most tedious, stale finance types. He would turn to the wholly featureless individual next to him and say something like, “Kate! How bright you shine this morning!” And Kate would blush, and everybody felt better about the meeting. He would goad people, poking them about their peccadilloes that time and familiarity had made known to him, and okay, it was still a finance meeting, but it felt a little bit more like a campfire. Great technique. It made long meetings seem shorter. For me, I find that saying slightly self-deprecating things can help pass the time and make people glad I attended.
4. Know When
There are a million ways to ease out of odious occasions. I’m not talking about not going at all – I’ll assume you’re already there at the meeting and suddenly realise it’s a total waste of time. Some techniques are old and tired; others you may dream up yourself right on the spot. Here are just a few.
Go to the bathroom. It’s a basic human right. In a one-hour meeting, you may go once without attracting attention. In a two-hour meeting, three times, with a longer stay on the third trip. If anybody comments, just say, “Too much coffee.” Everybody can relate to that.
About 40 minutes in, have a colleague wearing an apologetic expression pop into the room and discreetly wave to you. Then leave the room quietly with a distracted expression and, depending on the seriousness of the gathering, either never return at all or return after a time with your BlackBerry out, looking disturbed.
It is also possible, believe it or not, to simply get up and vanish without comment. People have crises in business. Later you can call one or two people to let them know you were up to your ass in alligators. They will understand and appreciate the call. Don’t do this if anybody above Director level is present.
5. Stay Alert –
You’d be amazed at the number of guys I know who fall asleep in meetings. I did once, but only because it was a two-hour slideshow about quality in a darkened room after I had been up until 3am drinking whisky with sales. I did my best to stay awake, but failed. I even snored. Humiliating.
6. Play The
I’m convinced I was allowed entry into executive life because, at the start of my career, I was better at working the time after meetings were over than my bosses were. They went steaming off to other important duties and beverages while I stayed behind, straightening my documents, being pleasant, chatting with the ultra-senior officers in the room who always stayed behind to schmooze with one another. After a while I was recognised as being, potentially, one of the guys. Why? Because I was in the room. Sometimes being there is all that’s necessary. I’m sure you can do that.
By Gil Schwartz