6 Business Meeting Tips (Adapted from Dinner Parties)

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Turn your next dinner party into a learning opportunity! What your do naturally at the table can help guide your behavior in business meetings. Think about these components the next time you share a meal with friends, and consider how you might apply them to your next meeting.

1. Tell a story

Telling a story at a dinner party feels natural and relaxing while you convey feeling and energy. We are most engaging when telling a story so people pay attention. In your next meeting, flesh out your points with anecdotes or examples, or inspire your listeners to create their own mental stories by offering short, colorful images. It will make you a lot more interesting and your points will be more accessible and memorable.

2. Know your audience

At the table are you talking to grandma or a grade schooler? Depending on who is listening, you naturally alter the content of what you say, the words you use and the depth of your explanations. In a presentation, consider your audience: their interest in and knowledge level about the subject. Choose your content and specific words accordingly. Be aware of jargon, technical explanations and over-simplifications and how appropriate they are for your audience.

3. Your face speaks

Notice people’s faces at a dinner party. They are expressive, enhancing the meaning of the speaker’s words. Likewise, when you are speaking or listening at a business meeting, no need to keep a poker face. You want to convey your enthusiasm for the subject, for your own opinion, for what your colleagues bring to the meeting…and you can do that by freeing your face to be expressive. Try a smile; it’s contagious!

4. Learn to move

Take a look at people’s body language when they talk or listen at the table. They sit up and exude energy. A speaker’s hands are not imprisoned below the table; they move naturally, bringing life to their story or point. Their upper body is mobile, and their neck and chest turn to face different people at the table, thus including everyone.

In a meeting, do the same. Sit up straight in your chair rather than slouch. Incline yourself forward when speaking or turn towards the person to whom you are listening. Like your facial expression, your body language conveys enthusiasm and interest. By allowing your body to move naturally you make more of a human connection with your audience than when you sit stiff, facing straight ahead.

5. Make eye contact

Dinner parties are all about eye contact. Even more than body language, eye contact creates and maintains your connection with others. When speaking at the table, you naturally look around at the various people listening to you. When listening, you look at the speaker.

Likewise, when speaking at a meeting it’s important to make eye contact with as many people at the table as possible. You may need to maintain more eye contact with an important decision maker, but with the exception of someone who is overtly hostile, include everyone at some point. When someone else is speaking, it’s only polite to look at them and meet their gaze when they return yours. Making eye contact helps you build an open and supportive relationship with your colleagues.

6. Listen to your audience

When you’re telling a dinner table story, you “listen” to your audience with your eyes and ears and adapt the story to their reactions. If they are enthusiastic, you’re egged on to give more details, exaggerate certain points or put out even more energy. If they are unresponsive or seem disinterested, you may speed up the story, add in a more exciting element, or change direction mid-course.

When giving a presentation, you’ll also need to “listen” to your audience as though you have antennae that pick up their signals. Consider their responses while you are talking. Do you need to slow down, make it livelier or explain your point in a different way? Do you need to skip one part entirely and focus more on another? Listening to your audience and responding accordingly will help them feel understood and taken into account. You will be communicating on their terms and they will be better able to take in what you say.

Next time take some of your dinner table behaviors to the conference room. You should feel more at ease and be a stronger communicator. All the better if it’s a lunch meeting!

Until the next time….


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