humans like to be told what to expect and what to do. Parameters and rules allow you to be the leader who takes the time to set them.
(Originally published for Fast Company May 11, 2022)
You will have limited opportunities for visibility in your work. They are valuable because these are moments to demonstrate leadership, or your potential for leadership. You have an opportunity in the transitions that occur during meetings. These moments allow you to take control and truly stand out.
When it is your turn to speak, you have to play the host of the meeting. Think of being invited over to someone’s house and they open the door to let you in and leave you standing there. You don’t know what to do next or where to go, what rooms you are allowed in or not until they lead you around. This is how your audience feels if you don’t take the initiative to make transitions in your meetings.
Here are two key moments that give you an opportunity to showcase your leadership qualities within these transitions.
The first ten seconds
Whether it is a weekly internal team meeting or an annual meeting with stakeholders, regardless of the content, when it is your turn to present, all eyes are on you.
It is not enough to start with “Okay, well, so, um, yeah it’s been a good week so far, and…” you have already lost your audience. You must set up your section. The first 10 seconds are crucial—even if you have been working with your team for years.
One of the reasons for having a set up gives you time to get comfortable in speaking before you hit the meat of your message. The other reason is it allows your audience to acclimate to the new speaker and digest the idea or concept you are about to speak on.
When it is your turn to speak, whether you are first up or after others have presented, it can be tempting to jump into your prepared work. But your audience is likely distracted. If they are not checking their phones, they are worried about the next task after the meeting, they’re thinking about how they are speaking after you, or any number of other complications or priorities.
Despite the fact that you and your topic may have been formally introduced (or that your topic is written on the agenda, or even in 12-inch-tall letters on your PowerPoint) the audience needs reiteration to truly absorb your message. Otherwise, by the time they’ve caught up with what you are saying, they’ll have missed a portion of your material, and maybe even the main idea.
As opposed to written language, most spoken language is spontaneous, has a simpler structure, and involves repetitions and rephrasing.
Take the opportunity to restate what you are speaking about before you begin. It will allow you to look in control and focused, not wondering if your point is landing.
The last few minutes
When you are nearing the end of your presentation, update, etc. there is another transition that needs your attention. Let them know you have finished speaking by (once again) reiterating your topic and main idea or thesis, then intentionally stop or pass the ball to the next speaker.
This is a moment that can be a trap for many speakers. For example, say senior manager Tom has finished his updates by saying: “So we have a lot of work ahead of us but we are on the right track…so….?” The audience is left thinking “Is he finished? Am I supposed to say something or ask a question?” No one responds and Tom begins to look flustered because he is not completely in control of the room, and perhaps a bit panicked as his leadership presence is diminished.
Tom could have been more effective by saying: “These are the updates on XYZ project and next steps. Now I will hand this back over to Susan.” If you don’t know who is speaking next it is fine to say “the team” or “I will hand the meeting back over.” Or if you do want to invite questions, say something like: “Are there any questions or comments before I turn this back over to Susan?”
Humans like to be told what to expect and what to do. Parameters and rules give those to your audience while giving you the space and time to be the leader who takes care to set them.