Influencing Virtual Meetings

by Paddy Barr, Managing Partner, Barr Performance Coaching and IMI associate

As a leader or aspiring leader your ability to influence others to support your vision, or support you to achieve your goals will go a long way to determining your ultimate success.

For many of us we usually have the opportunity to engage with colleagues and stakeholders both formally and informally at various times during the day or week, but in the current scenario those informal water cooler or coffee dock moments have been eliminated and nearly all meetings now involve participants connecting from a remote location through a video platform. Consequently, we may need to tweak our approach as our “window” to have influence will probably be restricted to either a segment in a formal meeting or a formal 1:1.

The key to having strong impact and influence always lies in the preparation and ground work prior to the engagement or meeting.

Before the meeting

Prior to engaging with the individual or individuals you want to impress, you need to have done your ground work by putting yourself in their shoes and answering the questions below.

1. Why should they care about your topic?

Why should they care now? Aim to be able to explain the importance of the topic to a third party in plain English in 90 seconds or less – if you can’t explain your point in a simple manner within 90 seconds then you probably don’t understand it well enough.

2. Present the topic in the context of your audience’s priorities.

As you think about how you will present the topic it is helpful if you can illustrate how your topic is aligned or consistent with one of their existing priorities. Better still, illustrate how supporting you will help them achieve one of their objectives. If you are trying to displace one of their priorities then you need to clearly point out the benefits for them early in the discussion.

3. What is the outcome you want to achieve?

Be specific on what success looks like for the discussion – what outcome are you hoping for? Express your answer as a definitive action, agreement to proceed or a decision. You should be able to summarise the benefits in no more than 3-4 prioritised quantifiable bullet points. Having a “laundry list” of desired benefits or outcomes may suggest that you don’t have a strong argument and so are scraping the barrel.

4. Identify the environment and language.

What is going on elsewhere in the business that will distract management/client from your message? Can this be leveraged for your benefit? What is their preferred style and language? For example, Sales and Marketing may tend to find Operations dull, so engage them by talking about how your idea will help them increase revenue/margin/market share or brand awareness. On the other hand, if you are talking to Finance you may choose to highlight process controls, risk mitigation and so on.

5. Organise your pre-meeting actions:

Talk to other influencers and decision makers to solicit support for your position. Have two versions of your topic prepared – the 3 minute version and the 10 minute version.

During the meeting

Running virtual meetings takes a new set of skills

1. Recognise the audience knowledge imbalance:

Make a decision: do I need to educate or ignore those who are not up to speed? If you decide to bring everyone up to the same level of understanding on the topic be sure to explain to the group what you are doing so that those who are knowledgeable don’t feel you are patronising them or wasting their time. If you decide it is not necessary to bring everyone up to speed, be sure to offer to bring those who are not knowledgeable on the topic up to speed after the meeting.

2. Listen! Don’t just broadcast:

Frequently people get so caught up in their own message that they don’t listen to what others are saying – be sure to “listen to understand” as opposed to “listening to respond”. Listening to understand is listening to the other person in a manner so that you comprehend not only what they are saying, but also the underlying anxiety that may be inherent in their point of view. Essentially, you are listening so that you can build upon their perspective and incorporate their hopes/fears in your view or at least mitigate their concerns so that they feel heard. Many people fall into the trap of “broadcasting” and as such fail to pick up on the verbal and non-verbal signals. To have an impact there must be an engagement with the key individuals. A good engagement will by its very nature be a two way dialogue, so demonstrate that you are open minded and not simply stuck “on message”.

3. Points specific to video or remote engagements

– If you are the host turn up 3-5 minutes early to open the meeting so that other participants are not left hanging around in virtual waiting rooms.
– Use the technology – make use of the chat functionality. Most platforms allow you to contribute without interrupting the flow of the person who is speaking by adding a comment to the chat box that is included in the meeting. This is a great way of showing support for the person who is talking or signalling that you have a question without interrupting them. Some technologies allow you to have an artificial background so you can block out what is going on behind you this is useful if you are in an public location.
– Get familiar with the location of the controls. E.g. switching on and off participants’ video (if band width is low you may want to only use your video when you are speaking). It is helpful if you can assist others in using the controls on their devices.
– Display empathy – some people will find working from home great while others may find it lonely. Take a moment or two to empathise with their respective scenarios
– Use the mute button judiciously if there is background noise in your location put yourself on mute until you have something to say. If there is going to be persistent background noise consider using headphones.
– Limit interruptions – In normal circumstances working from home is not child minding so if at all possible try to limit family interruptions
– Dress as you would at work – it is important that you don’t look like you just got out of bed. There is probably no need to wear a suit or be overly formal but don’t go too casual.

After the meeting

Make sure you take a meaningful action from the meeting and execute upon it within a specific time period. Taking an action gives you the opportunity to continue the engagement, as opposed to simply making an impression in the meeting but then being forgotten about afterwards. If you do not have a specific action, it is good practice to summarise the result of the discussion in an email to double check that everyone is aligned.

Tips, Tricks and Takeaways

– Remember what is important to you may not be important to the management/client – they pay you to worry about the detail, so don’t fall into the trap of pulling them into the detail unless it is completely necessary. Always focus on what is important to the leader/client and illustrate how the topic will enable them to be successful or achieve their goals.
– Set yourself up as someone who can support the Subject Matter Experts, i.e. someone who recognises, values and appreciates their knowledge. If you are the leader, always give due recognition to the source of the knowledge or expertise when presenting out the decision.
– If you can try to solicit a perspective from others who have dealt with your audience in advance of the meeting – they may be able to give you helpful insights.

Finally, be aware that the introverts and the extroverts will all act differently on calls so you need to use your Emotional Intelligence to ensure that everyone understands your points and key message.