Jean Jaworek Tips for a Successful (and fun!) Meeting

First and Close Encounters In and Out of Season

February 16, 2007

By Jean Jaworek

I haven’t been getting out much lately.  I’m still enjoying meals with friends and family nights and weekends and the occasional Hollywood blockbuster too but I haven’t been attending a lot of work related meetings.  I haven’t been getting a lot of face time with upper management either.

I’m not being punished—remanded to corporate obscurity for some real or perceived infraction of The Rules—or if so I’m blithely unaware reduced status.  Mostly, I’m not seen grazing break tables or attempting to secure a theater-style seat within PowerPoint squinting distance, because other duties keep me away. 

My work has always been seasonal, punctuated by busy periods where I’m alone or sequestered with one or two others likewise engaged.  At such times I face a PC monitor requiring full work days and undivided attention.  Optional meetings—the kinds that are largely informational are pretty much out of the question.   

So my world rocked a bit recently when another’s scheduled bumped my own.  A corporate executive – a new guy at least to our organization--unexpectedly scheduled a meeting with me.  He’d learned I had some background in an area he was interested in exploring and wanted recognizance from my own lips.  Moi?   Yes.   I felt a little like Dorothy and her cohorts summoned to a face off with Oz, The Great and Powerful.               

Why?  Three reasons: 

1. I wanted to make a favorable impression.  We can’t redo first encounters.  I know it.  You know it, and it is as true now as when Momma done told us so.   
2. I want the boss to be happy. I know any encounter that can influence expectation, even modestly, is one laden with the mojo of opportunity.  The deft hand can shape perceived outcome -- insurance that the sense of corporate well-being will be preserved sometimes regardless of outcome.  To my mind, this is what managing upward is all about albeit on a rather primitive level.   
3. I want to be perceived as on and with it even when I don’t feel I am truly either.  Truthfully, in my meeting off season, I think I lose my macro edge. Swamped by minutia, the big picture fades to a backdrop of vague scenery that fails to inspire because I don’t have time to look at it.  What would I say to the guy?

What to do?

The usual.  Deep breaths to encourage calm.   Glance out any window.  This reveals a sky as unthreatened by imminent collapse as ever.  Follow this by a quick look at the western horizon. There the sun will be slumping in something like no time—a cogent reminder of the need to get on it with it.
Next:  Preparation. Organization of materials.  Production of a typed formal outline including all the absolutely key points highlighted.  Why not?  Attire:  Think of something reasonable to wear but don’t dwell.  Success hinges at your keeping at the task at hand. .Of course most of us know all this but it bears repetition because most of us tend to forget question what should be obvious best practices when spooked or caught off guard. Leave time to buff the shoes. It you look down at your shiny toes just before entering a meeting particularly an important one, you might catch the glow. 
Most importantly, do not procrastinate or lose confidence.  If you don’t succumb to one or the other, you know you are likely to pull through.  I did and when I left the new guy he smiled, and shook my hand like he meant it.   

Turn Your Ringer Off...Put Your PDA Away. People Are Meeting Here!

February 14, 2007

By Jean Jaworek

I’m wary of nostalgia.  I owe this to my maternal grandmother.  She reached for a wet blanket whenever one of octogenarian buds began waxing eloquent about the past.  With a  sharp memory until the end, she could vividly recall the devilish details of bygone days.  Thus, the misty-eyed recollections of yesteryear were likely to garner a deceptively agreeable nod and the rejoinder, “Yes, yes, the good old days with children dying of croup and diphtheria.  You can have ‘em.”

I’m reluctant to pine for pre-cell phone, pre-PDA days mindful that Nana might be watching from a better place stoked to put the whammy on me.  This brings to mind the specter of restless nights lost dream-walking and technology-free, along the kind of isolated dimly lit roads that feature so prominently in sci-fi thrillers.  Sans phone, I’ll feel menaced, afraid and entirely alone.  It goes almost without saying that I’ll awaken in a cold sweat. 

So I guess I see it both ways. I’m not part of the Luddite crowd raging against all electronic gizmos.  I like some of them a lot and really find it hard to imagine doing my job without them.  On the other hand, I’m not ‘down with’ some of the unnecessary foolishness and really just bad manners I’ve come to view as their evil spawn.   

Driving and talking on a cell phone held clamped to either ear is unsafe and dumb.  Insurance statistics prove it.  We know it, and those of us who do still do it are needlessly risking our own lives and those of others.   That’s why you can get a ticket for it in most places. 

In a movie or theater, we’re asked to turn off all electronic devices around the time that the house lights go down.  For the most part, the theatre-going population complies. We agree that the distraction of a ringing phone spoils the collective immersion experience that makes going to a theater fun.

Why not at meetings too?   Isn’t the point of a face-to-face event that your mug will be giving its undivided attention to that of others?  What cheek to be trolling through your emails while someone is trying to communicate with you?  It’s just plain rude.  Why can’t we collectively acknowledge it as such and take action accordingly?  More to the point, why can’t I get myself to speak up about this when it counts, before a meeting begins?

Recently, our smallish departmental meeting was attended by a vendor who had traveled three thousand miles to be there. One of our guys-- a multiple face-to-face gizmo offender -- showed up with his usual appliances. He repeatedly and conspicuously, checked his emails while we met and left the ringer on his phone.  By the time the meeting ended, I wanted to swat him with his PDA.  Still, I couldn’t bring myself to say a thing.  I like to think, I don’t care much what the other kids think about me, yet, I admit I’m as hide-bound to the court of corporate opinion as the next employee.  To be thought a quaint stand-in for Miss Manners, opposed to the more extreme forms of multi-tasking, makes me quail. Who wants to be thought backward?

But it also gets me down to think to recognize that I’m waiting for someone else to take action and deal with something that’s bugging me this much.  Nana would be disappointed. 

So I know what I’ve got to do.   I’ve got to find a phone booth, even if it’s only in my mind and change from mild-mannered blogging reporter to a character with the strength of ten and steel enough to enter a meeting room and ask that all electronic devices be turned off.   I need to make Nana proud. 



Pre-Meeting Jitters: Outta My Way

February 12, 2007

By Jean Jaworek

Meetings make me nervous.  There, I’ve said it, well, I was actually mouthing the words while typing, but I’m taking ownership of my anxiety, putting it out there…sharing.

It doesn’t matter whether I’m planning it, attending one planned by someone else or a talking head perched atop a lectern, the prospect of the experience regardless of how worthwhile I might believe it to be, always makes me sweat.  Why?  I don’t know.  Something from early childhood perhaps, performance anxiety dating back to a Brownie Scouts Fly-Up assembly or earlier, maybe a pre-school sandbox mixer freighted with the double whammy of critical social skill acquisition and tightly scheduled, parentally scrutinized recreation.  Why delve?

Carpe diem.  Projecting my own experience, I’m thinking quite a few others –even some with PLANNER embossed on their business cards—share my Angst at least episodically and could benefit from a few pre-conference, jitter-reduction strategies.  For the sake of truth in self-advertising: There is likely nothing novel here. For the most part these measures treat symptoms rather than underlying causes.  I offer no cure.  Still I’ve found these effective in controlling the flight fight impulse when I meet and greet and you might too.      

Here’s a list of what works for me:         

-Never go to a meeting hungry.  This includes and is especially true of breakfast meetings, particularly those where you will liaise with catering.   If you wait to eat when everyone else is eating, you might not get to it; moreover, by the time everyone else is ready to tuck in you will have likely noticed an inadequate quantity of (fill in the blank) creamers, syrup, artificial sweetener or that your guest speaker has forgotten his bifocals and won’t be able to read his notes from the podium.  You don’t want to deal with this stuff when your blood sugar starts to totter or hit the skids.  Your meeting triage skills will be sharpest if you have at least some brain fuel available. 
-Bring your own pen, a spare and something to write on.  If this is a no-brainer how is it that I have never attended a meeting where I or someone around me has failed to ask for one or the other?  This is particularly important at set-up when you are likely to open the boxes with stationery supplies last. Carefully labeled boxes detailing the contents of each don’t do you much good when the hotel or conference center has erected a box obelisk, possibly in homage to your meeting, with your stationery supplies into its foundation.
Note: Pens are good for more than writing.  A well-aimed pen with enough blunt force can pierce strapping tape.  With a pen you can open your own boxes, without having to hunt down the single guy on the maintenance staff with a working box cutter.

-Say hello to people in your orbit of activity and smile.  When you feel edgy or nervous, there’s a tendency to give yourself over to your own worry and preoccupation.  When you start shutting out others, you begin the inexorable drain-circling to the black hole of self-absorption.  Space and time distort and you are very likely to blow some imagined slight to magilla proportions.  For example, you might start thinking that the raising or lowering of room lights is a life and death issue. Your rational, balanced self knows better, but your pressured, egocentric self might not have it down pat.  It is a good idea to remind yourself that there are others with you, around you who might even be able to help you with whatever. Conveying a sense of how glad your are to see them, serves an important reminder.  You are not alone.   

-Keep alcohol and caffeine consumption to a minimum before and during a meeting. 
If you are reading this, you are likely a grown-up and there is no need to belabor this  issue. You know why.

-Deep breathing.  When you get the tightness of chest that is the precursor of tears, an angry outburst or panic, a few lung-swelling, modulated breaths can save the day.  As you are about to say a few words, nod for the first Powerpoint projection, or any time you step into the breach, you probably won’t have time to stretch out on a yoga mat and slowly convince your  shoulders and feet to melt to the floor. But you can still inhale and slowly letting out a half dozen breaths almost anywhere and you will feel calmer—better really -- for having done so.      

You want to do a good job.  A few or all of these steps might help you get it done.  They might help you remember to enjoy it too.   

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