*This is a reprint of one of my recent columns on career advice that was published in the Hans India newspaper, in August 2012
A simple measurement of your progression up the corporate ranks is how many meetings you are asked to attend. The more senior a manager is in a company, the more of their time they spend in meetings (to the point that they complain, “All I do is attend meetings”).
How you behave in meetings is very important, as your conduct will be watched by senior managers. Why? India is experiencing a major talent shortage. Any manager, who is responsible for growing their organization, is constantly evaluating anyone they meet, looking for management or employment potential. I know managers who have made corporate job offers to staff at restaurants or supermarkets, based on the professionalism those staff displayed.
Similarly, your managers will be observing you during meetings, to evaluate not only your contributions, but also how you conduct yourself. Would they feel confident in sending you to meetings on their behalf? Do you represent the company in your behavior?
So, how can you create the best impression possible at the meetings that you attend?
Adjust the height of the chair (if it adjusts) to the highest possible point. People instinctively link power to height. 90% of American CEOs and almost all American presidents are of above average height.
You have little control over your normal standing height, but when you sit in an adjustable chair, you have choice in this. Pick the highest level at which you can comfortably sit.
Sit up straight in the chair so that your back is vertical. If possible, change the chair settings so that the back doesn’t tilt. Leaning backwards on your chair, or spinning from side to side makes you look like a kid, not a manager.
Stake out your space.
This is especially important for younger managers or those who lack confidence in speaking.
Bring several items to the meeting and arrange them in front of you, so that they take up space slightly wider than your seat. Start with a note pad and pen. You will always look more professional if you use a folder or portfolio that keeps a notebook and other notes and papers organized. Open this in front of you. A water bottle placed beside your folder also secures your space. If glasses of water or tea are served, you can place this beside your folder as well.
By controlling the tabletop in front of you, you are symbolically ‘owning’ your place at the table and you remove the risk of being pushed backward if the table becomes crowded.
Hands on the table
Keeping your forearms on the table radiates confidence. It also keeps your hands ready to gesture when you get the chance to speak.
If your hands are in your lap, some people will wonder if you are sending messages on your phone. Gripping the edge of the table, or resting your hands on the arms of the chair, both send the message that you are not engaged in the discussion.
Look at other people
Don’t disengage when the topic doesn’t concern you. If you have been invited to the meeting, make an effort to stay involved. If the person speaking looks in your direction, making eye contact with them tells them that you are listening and that you respect their time. They are then more likely to pay attention when it is your turn to speak.
The best way to signal your attention is to twist your upper body towards whoever is speaking, so that your shoulders and chest are facing the speaker. This is a classic body language technique to indicate whom you are focusing on. Just turning your head to face the person doesn’t cut it!
You might be carefully taking notes but everyone else will wonder if you are checking email, surfing Facebook etc. It is also rude not to look at the person who is speaking. If you are typing notes, it is likely that you will end up staring at your screen while you type. Finally, that is a chance that you will be asked to take meeting minutes, which is never fun!
As obvious as it sounds, this is a problem with many younger managers. Answering calls or sending sms’s or emails during a meeting, is a direct insult to whoever is speaking. You are sending a clear signal to those present that you consider your other work to be more important than what is being discussed. Keep your phone on silent, and keep it somewhere that it doesn’t loudly vibrate.
Being perceived as professional and confident is incredibly important, if you want to rise up the corporate ladder. Promotions are not given based on how well you do your work or how many hours you put in. They are given to people that the company perceives to have management potential. Start implementing these tips in your next meeting, and you are well on your way to making a great impression!