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How to conquer your first senior meetings with confidence

Your first senior meeting can cause all kinds of anxiety.  At first, you think you will be cool under pressure. Be measured. Act maturely.  State your opinion, but not too eagerly. Channel your inner Michelle Obama. And then doubt starts to set in, the jitters appear, and you begin the “what if’s” in your head.  What if they ask you how long you have been with your company? What if they question your analysis? What if everyone seems to know one another and you are the only outsider?  Naturally, you will know your content and talking points cold. And have practiced. And practiced. So, here are ten tactics to make a positive impression and gain credibility.

Master Your Intro

Know your introduction.  It sounds simple in theory.  “Hi, I’m Andrea, and I’m on the marketing team.”  That said, there is plenty of room for error here.  If you say too little, people will ask questions you may be uncomfortable answering.  If you say too much, you can come off as rambling and inarticulate. The ideal introduction is straightforward, shares your role in the meeting and closes with an engaging question or observation about the other person to redirect attention.  “Hi, I’m Andrea, and I focus on market size assessments. I am looking forward to talking about the growing online market. I understand you all are having great success through X, Y or Z.” Separately, while your elevator introduction is necessary, responding with ease is most important.  So, try it out on a teammate. Say it out loud in the mirror. Record it. Get comfortable with it. I repeat. Get comfortable with it.

Practice your answer for “how long have you been with the company?”  When you have been with a company for less than a year, this can be tricky.  On the one hand, you don’t want to be discredited due to lack of experience. On the other hand, you want to be truthful.  Some answers I have heard throughout my career have included “I’ve been with X company just under a year. My previous experience included roles and X, Y and Z organizations” You don’t need to say they were three-month internships.  You should chat with your colleagues, ask their opinion and craft an appropriate response. Whatever the reaction, as I said before…say it out loud. In front of the mirror. Several times.

Do Your Homework

Know the players, their positions and their likely opinions.  Know who will be in the meeting, the relevant backgrounds, ideas and reasonable points of debate.  Ask team members what questions have come up previously or in similar situations.

Follow the unwritten rules.  Ask someone you trust what unwritten rules exist.  Do people have places they typically sit? Do you wait for the meeting to start until a particular person is present even if he or she is late? Do phones face down on the table or are people rapidly texting one another with comments?

Plan how and when you will speak.  Talk to your team beforehand and say something like “I’m thinking about X meeting, and I want to make sure we are coordinated, so we support one another and don’t talk over one another.  I would present slides three through six and interject supporting comments after you have presented on pages 10 and 11. Does this plan make sense to you? Should we walk through talking points together?”

In the meeting

Know your talking points. You have heard it before, practice, practice, practice.  If you are going to present a page or a piece of analysis, write down the three key points you want to make for each page or step of the analysis.  These points should highlight the main point of the page and one to two compelling pieces of data to support the main point. Then add an example or an insight that is not on the page to engage the group.  Say it out loud and time yourself. Make sure, and unless it is a complicated explanation, you are not responding with more than a two-minute answer if the setting is informal, close by asking if there are any questions.

Be thoughtful about Q&A.  We know you will know your content, but thinking about how to respond to questions is essential. When someone unfamiliar with the analysis is asking a question, the person is rarely interested in understanding the calculation or a restatement of the facts.  He or she is often looking for the rationale or logic behind the analysis or conclusion. The “Why this is important.” Know your logic or argument so you can respond with a compelling, on point answer. Moreover, keep your response to 30 seconds or less.

Don’t guess on answers to questions.  If someone asks a direct question and you don’t know the answer, confidently state “That is a great question.  We did not look at the problem in exactly that way so I will get back to you over the next day (or another appropriate timeframe) with an answer.”

Don’t go head-to-head.  If you disagree with someone, make your point through asking questions.  Attempt to understand. Summarize. Restate the problem. While you don’t want to let an issue go unresolved or have incorrect facts on the table,  consider letting a more experienced person at the table weigh in on the debate.

Don’t get knocked off balance by the unexpected.  The more senior the meeting, the more likely the agenda is to be hijacked by another topic, recent event or one person’s opinion.  The conversation may turn away from the original plan. In this case, follow the lead of someone more experienced in the group. Make sure you are actively listening with positive non-verbals (e.g., lean forward, make eye contact, take notes, nod your head).  Think of a question to contribute to the conversation. In this case, do not try to get the meeting back on track. Leave that to the owner of the meeting. Also, finally, wear your power piece.  We all have some piece of clothing or jewelry that makes us feel great.  Wear it. And touch it if things go south to remind yourself to stay strong, present and professional.

Also, finally, wear your power piece.  We all have some piece of clothing or jewelry that makes us feel great.  Wear it. And touch it if things go south to remind yourself to stay strong, present and professional.

The Gist
Senior meetings can be intimidating when you are the youngest/ newest person in the room.  Prepare, stay present and professional and you will walk away with the respect and credibility you have earned.

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