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Take the shakes out of a high stakes meeting

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

If you are prepping for a high stakes meeting, are nervous about it and can put party politics aside for two minutes, spare a thought this week for UK Chancellor, Sajid Javid.

Just before Christmas his boss publicly snubbed the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting – where high-profile leaders meet to address ‘the most pressing issues on the global agenda’. To add insult to injury, the boss didn’t politely decline the invite. To paraphrase, he said he and his team were too busy doing ‘real’ work to ‘sip champagne with billionaires’.

Less than a month later, it seems the boss changed his mind. Sajid Javid got ‘special dispensation’ or, more likely, was ‘voluntold’ that he’d be attending the meeting to represent the British Government. Talk about the boss setting you up for success!

High stakes meetings are hard enough without being wrong-footed. Yet Sajid Javid must walk into that meeting this week and get the best outcome he can. His actions not only reflect on him but his Government and the nation. That’s what I’d call a high stakes meeting!

It’s inevitable that at times you’ll be confronting your own high stakes meetings. And, while the circumstances might not be as extreme as Sajid Javid faces this week, when the stakes are high the prospect can be equally terrifying.

So, with that in mind, here are three ways to take the shakes out of a high stakes meeting…

1. Prepare

It sounds obvious but carve out the time and space you need to do your homework – vacate your desk and find somewhere quiet to focus.

Who else will be there and what’s important to them? The more you can meet their needs in the pursuit of your own, the more successful you’ll be.

Once you’ve established the basics, think about what a successful outcome would be for you.

Then start considering your content. Invest the time you need to get your story straight then simplify it - radically. This is a difficult skill to master so don’t be afraid to seek help from a communications professional, a trusted colleague or a coach. Making your case compelling, credible and concise takes time.

My best advice is to start early.

2. Present

You need to make an impression. That means presenting what you want to say with confidence and staying ‘present’ by which I mean really paying attention to those in the room and the surroundings.

I spend a great deal of time helping people build presence not least for critical moments like these.

There’s too much to share in this article, so here’s my ABC:

Awareness. Be aware of the entrance you make. First impressions matter. Don’t rush. Own your entrance. Whatever happens, don’t let your first words be an apology. You’ve earned your place, you’re there, you’ve got this.

Breathe. When we’re nervous, our body tenses up and that impacts our voice. To sound credible, you need to get your breathing under control. It’s easily done with simple breathing exercises. I recently published an article detailing a breathing exercise that’s useful just before making your entrance. It’s titled: “And breathe

Confidence. Have the confidence to speak up, make your case and deflect interruptions. But also have the confidence to be curious. Listen to what others say and ask questions like you have something to learn. Confident curiosity is intoxicating and influential.

3. Pursue

So, the meeting’s over. It went well. That’s it, right? Wrong. The meeting is the beginning – never the end. The magic only happens when you follow through. Send a summary, including assigned actions. Then become “that” person. Deliver what you say you will and pursue others to follow your lead – until you get the result you need.

Susan Room is a former corporate leader, turned coach. One of the rare few qualified to provide voice and executive coaching, her unique blend of experience now sees her help others feel, look and sound confident – improving performance and happiness at work.

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