Personal Performance In Tough Meetings

Often, your performance in meetings can either help establish or diminish the respect and trust you have with key people in and outside your Organization. How you perform in meeting matters. The most challenging meetings are those where the pressure is abnormally high. It could be a meeting to make key decision on a major project, or it could be a meeting to address a competitive threat. It could be a meeting you called, or one you were called to. Whatever it is, how you deal with the pressure will impact your personal brand.

I used to dread tough meetings (and sometimes still do), until I learned how to deal with the anxiety and uncertainty associated with them.

Here are ten practical tips from my experience that helped me cope and may help you to do the same.


Tip #1 – Chill. Everybody in the room is a human and wants you to be human too. In fact, if you are tense, there is a good chance most everybody else is as well. You are definitely not alone. Take a deep breath and smile.

Tip #2 – Get Everybody on The Same Page at The Start. Make certain somebody explains the meeting objective and agenda. Shares any time constraints and how they will be managed. And ensures alignment to the expected meeting outcomes. I often find participants are not always in agreement with exactly what the meeting is expected to accomplish even if they are aligned with the overall objective. Sometimes it is a question of authority and sometimes it is a question of whether the right people are involved in the meeting.

Tip #3 – Listen When People Present. Look at the presenter if you are in the same room. Seek to understand their main point(s). Ask for clarification if something is confusing to you. When people speak, they appreciate it if you actually listen. It is viewed as a sign of personal respect and caring. Side conversations are distracting and for the most part, rude.

Tip #4 – Find a non-confrontational way to share your perspective. People have a tendency to listen simply to frame a response rather than to understand. Provoking conflict is not the best way to have your counter point-of-view understood. Embrace the possibility that you may not have all the data you need to take an informed position.

Tip #5 – Do a Gut Check. Record how you feel about what is being said. Use smilies on a piece of paper to remind yourself. Then act on your gut. If something seems intellectually right but feels emotionally wrong, chances are it is. You’ll be amazed how often your gut makes the right call.

Tip #6 – Collect Your Thoughts Before You Speak. Take just a few moments to organize your thinking. It will dramatically improve the quality of your communication. Consider jotting down notes to yourself using the CAR model (context – action – response).

Tip #7 – Don’t Make it Personal. Understand what is being said or recommended and make certain your comments focus on that rather than on the person or people speaking. Stay professional without being patronizing. But, be sure your comments are transparent. If you mean “no” then say “no”.

Tip #8 – Be Succinct in Your Comments. Less is actually more when speaking. Remember it is supposed to be a discussion not a soliloquy. You should actually want to hear other people’s points of view too.

Tip #9 – Be Strategic. Allow latitude for different tactical approaches to solving a problem as long as you believe the consensus approach is sufficient to be successful. You should never take (or be perceived as taking) the “my way or the highway” approach.

Tip #10 – Prepare in Advance. Our lives are so busy that it is unlikely your brain can keep all the information you need to make a decision on any given subject. Just 15-minutes of advanced preparation to remind yourself of the facts will help you feel far more confident and prepared for any meeting discussion.


Even though it has served me well over all these years, if the CAR model feels awkward to you, Sarah Denholm has another model that may make it easier for you to speak up in meetings. In this blog post  she talks about Burt Albert’s whole message formula – 1) observation, 2) thoughts, 3) feelings, and 4) needs. You may find it works better for you. In the end though, it doesn’t matter what model you use as long as you take the time to think before speaking.

Do you have any personal tips on how to best handle challenging meetings?

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