How to Read Behavior and Body Language During Meetings

Your future success may depend on it more than you know.

With this in mind, let’s visit some all-too-familiar meeting situations – to check out what’s really going on, and learn how to sensitize boardroom behavior.

Scenario one: Attention! Attention! Attention!

Tuesday morning, time for the weekly sales meeting and Mike walks into the boardroom carrying his laptop, BlackBerry and a notebook. Ray, vp sales, begins his review with the entire team. Twenty minutes into the meeting, Mike raises his hand to speak. Ray says; “Go ahead.”

Mike stands, starts to speak and after talking non-stop for five minutes, suddenly sits down. He has an anxious, uncomfortable look. Ray thanks Mike and goes back to the point he was making. The meeting adjourns and on the way out, Mike says to Rachel; “I felt a little funny – was it something I said?”

Rachel suggests they grab a coffee.

“Mike, you’re a smart guy, but you’re out of touch. Right at the start of the meeting, you opened your laptop. At first, it looked like you were taking copious notes, but it was really obvious you were working on something else. Then, you picked up your BlackBerry, grabbed your notebook and started writing. You showed no interest in what Ray was saying. You were disrespectful and you insulted him two ways. You didn’t pay attention and you interrupted him.

“Everyone in the room, except you, knew what was going on. When you started to speak, you talked about issues we’d already covered. Then, you went on and on about something totally unrelated.

“From the start, we were all listening and participating, but you weren’t. You were acting superior – maybe because you’ve already achieved your sale’s quota. The entire team was exasperated – Bob was shaking his head in disbelief. Didn’t you see Andrew put his hand over his face? Jim kept tapping the table; Sandy was fiddling with her glasses. Then, Martin got up and started stretching. And the entire time, you kept talking and talking. Didn’t you understand what they were saying?

“But Rachel, no one said a word!!!”

“Mike, their body language was saying everything!”

Damage control #101

Mike had the common sense to realize he’d goofed, although after the fact!

Meetings are an inevitable part of business life. Sometimes, they seem to dominate an entire week’s agenda and leave us scrambling to return calls and reschedule our routines. It only stands to reason that some of these pushed-aside-activities may quietly slide into meetings – like checking BlackBerry and iPhone messages, or working behind a conveniently angled laptop. Everyone at meetings, including speakers, is onto these maneuvers.

Words to the wise:

1. Stay alert and pay attention.
2. Keep your BlackBerry or IPhone in your briefcase and out of sight.
3. Park your closed laptop beside you. Focus on what’s being said.

Scenario two: “Bored-room”

Thursday afternoon, time for a marketing update, and every chair is filled. The listeners seem attentive and interested; they’re following the speaker.

And then, snap! Like well-rehearsed choreography, the dance of the twirling pens starts. Before long, the big body shift number has taken over from the twirling pens and the stretching begins. Then it’s turn-around-time – full torso pivots – to see the back of the room. What are the listeners telling us, without ever saying a word?

This crowd is telling the speaker, “Sit down – we’ve heard enough.”

Maybe our speaker started rambling, already made his point, or has gone on too long. Doesn’t matter. It’s time to close. The last thing any speaker wants is a “bored-room.”

Damage control #102

There’s no doubt that a two-hour Oscar winner commands our attention far better than watching paint dry. Yet experts agree, measuring our actual attention span, unlike measuring the Golden Gate’s span, is an imperfect science. What they do know is that the actual amount of time we can and do stay focused is very brief, indeed.

What do we do during this “lag time”? We drift. We go to the beach, plan the evening ahead, organize ideas. And if we’re attending a meeting, chances are, we’re casually scanning the room. If a speaker is interesting, listeners still drift in and out, but if the speaker starts to ramble, go off-topic, or present an unpopular viewpoint, watch out!

Speaker-smart tips:

1. Audience body language sends a very clear message. Look for signals.
2. When you’re holding the floor and something feels wrong, come to a close. Changing the subject won’t get you back on track.

Scenario three: Finish on a high note

This time, let’s visit a one-to-one meeting. Bob is making a pitch. The listener, Janice, is sitting comfortably and then slowly, she starts to move into a sprint position, eyes pinned to her watch. Body language does not lie. She has clearly run out of time. Bob swiftly winds down; “I believe I’ve taken enough of your time Janice; I’d like to schedule a follow-up.”

Smart move. No point in droning on when Janice’s mind is elsewhere.

Damage control #103

Whew! Bob got it right.

Tips for swiftly winding down:

1. When a listener tunes out, turn down the sound, and then turn it off.
2. No fast talking – avoid a high-speed race to a rehearsed “finish line.”

We’re all good at reading body language; sometimes we just ignore it. Try to be more aware of body language and while you’re at it, get a handle on your own. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Diane Craig
Image and Etiquette Expert
http://www.corporateclassinc.com

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