Five Tips to Make Small Group Meetings More Effective
If you’ve been following along for a while now, you’ve likely noticed several classes and newsletters about formal meeting etiquette and presentation skills. As one of our most requested topics, we all know there is very much a time and place to put these skills to work. Likely, we’ve all encountered at least one opportunity to facilitate a meeting or give a presentation in front of an audience. But what about the less-formal things?
What about the small group meetings? You know, the run-of-the-mill team meeting or one-on-one where you find yourself needing to speak up or present your ideas to someone else. Think, less boardroom and more conference room. While it might not carry the same pressure as standing at a lectern in front of an audience, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it as seriously or prepare as well.
Inspired by some less-formal “sessions” I’ve observed recently while visiting colleges with my oldest daughter, here are five tips to help make the small group meetings more effective.
As a quick caveat, the expectation for most of these tips is that at some point during that meeting, you are responsible for sharing some information to others in the room.
1. Know Your Audience
As with any formal or large-group presentation, do a little bit of research in advance to get to know your audience.
- Who’s going to be in the room? What are their names (and how do you pronounce them correctly!)? What are their roles and functions?
- Why are they in the room? What might they be interested in?
- What might they be worried about?
- Are there work-related things you know are top of mind for them?
- Are there personal things they’ve shared with you that could also be top of mind? (Consider for example, a colleague who is about to leave on a long-term vacation; a leader whose daughter just had surgery; a colleague who is in the peak of their team’s busy season)
Knowing about these things in advance helps you incorporate them into the conversation where it makes sense, or at least take into account that they may be distracted by factors not related to your time together.
2. Do a Little Homework
Of course, we can’t be expected to be able to answer any question at the drop of a hat. However, part of knowing your audience is also knowing what kinds of questions they might ask. Look ahead at the agenda for the meeting or topic of your presentation and try to anticipate where they might look to you for answers. Think about what answers you’d be able to give them on the spot, and the ones you should prep for in advance. Also prepare for answers you’ve been unable to provide in the past so you don’t put yourself in that spot again.
If you have a habit of remembering the data from two years ago instead of the current data, look up the current data. If you have a habit of forgetting the exact percentages or numbers and you anticipate someone is going to ask you about it, then take a second and look it up. But remember, being prepared and committing things to memory are different. It’s okay to write out your answers and have them with you in the moment.
3. Use Humor with Caution
Many of our training and coaching topics center on emotional intelligence and self-awareness. One of the places we tend to see people struggle most with these topics is with the use of humor – knowing when to use it, and when to avoid it. If you are one of those folks who consistently gets a chuckle from those around you – not an awkward, uncomfortable shifting or a nervous token laugh, but a real life chuckle or genuine laugh – it’s safe to say your humor actually hits home, and you are probably okay to continue to use it in these informal situations. But, if you have to try really hard to make your humor stick, or you’ve heard from others that your humor is offbeat, hard to understand, or unusual, then an informal meeting might not be the best time to try out a new joke that would be better reserved for time with friends or family.
Regardless of how your humor lands with those around you, we want to caution everyone on the difference between irony and sarcasm. Irony is defined as “the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite” If irony is called for, then feel free to use it. Sarcasm, however, takes lighthearted irony to an extreme, using it to “mock or convey contempt.” Sarcasm is one of the most toxic substances in an organizational context, and certainly sarcasm can be misplaced in a small group conversation.
4. Make it Matter
There’s a meme I’ve seen floating around social media recently that says, “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” In this sense, I’m sure we’re all survivors.
When it comes to your own, even informal, meetings and presentations, it’s important to make them matter. Don’t spend your shared time together reading an email or article to your audience when they can, and likely already have, read it on their own. Instead, use your time together to put context around the information. Help them understand why it matters, how it impacts them, and what they can do about it.
If you need to start the conversation with a brief recap of the information, then spend five or ten seconds (not minutes) doing so, and then move on. Save your precious face-to-face meeting time for discussions that will actually matter to your audience, rather than using it to share information they can get on their own. (Picture via Etsy.com)
5. Speak from the Heart
Part of the reason public speaking, or even small group speaking, feels so awkward for many of us is because we forget to speak about the things we’re interested in and passionate about. When given the opportunity to share highlights, speak from the heart. What are you excited about for the project you’re working on? What might inspire someone else to join your group or attend your college? What might cause someone else to jump on board with an initiative you’re rooting for? Whatever it is you’re gathered to talk about, speak from the heart.
Don’t make things up or rely solely on the facts and information you think your audience wants to hear. Instead, use your natural inclinations and your natural interest in the subject to guide the conversation so as you share you are able to speak with authenticity, passion, and emotion. By speaking from the heart, you will find that you have an easier time engaging the participants in the meeting or the discussion, however many or few there are.
We hope you found these five tips helpful for sharing or presenting information in a small group or a less-formal setting. If you’d like more information about presentation skills, Mastering Your Presentation Skills or Speaking and Presenting to Others, check out our website for more options. And we’d love to have you join us on social media to chime in on the conversation about what you do to engage effectively with small group discussions.