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  • Darcy Nicolle

Successful High Stakes Meetings - Keep it Simple and Serene


How to stack the odds in your favour for a high stakes meeting? Keep your arguments simple, engineer your environment and use your body language.


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Tensions and stresses in the room undermine positive feelings and distract attention. And if you or your team are stressed, you will come across as less confident and authoritative, making you in turn less persuasive and less likely to get a successful result.

Steps to Success

Have A Simple Plan

Boil down what you plan to say to –

1. A single message

2. Two supporting arguments

3. A counter argument to the opposing view

4. A request or ‘ask’

Easy to remember and more memorable for your audience.

A simple plan with a concise message and argumentation does not take long to express. If you only need five minutes or less, you can afford to be relaxed and patient during the meeting. You will not be worrying about remembering a dozen points, or, if you will have the time to explain them all.

Before the Meeting

Focus on raising the comfort levels of all the participants before the meeting by increasing the predictability of the meeting.

Do not be afraid to pre-brief the minister’s team about what you plan to talk about and the questions you may have, and you should ask what points the minister is likely to make. This makes the job of preparing for the meeting easier and more accurate on both sides.

Crucially though, you have shown that you are open to cooperating which increases positive feelings towards you; and lowered the psychological stresses caused by worrying about surprises.

If people already have a positive attitude towards you, before you even enter the room, your job is already half done.

The Meeting

From the moment you enter the meeting room and during the whole time you are there, be aware of your body language.

People are naturally more likely to be persuaded by someone who is likeable and whose body language is confident. In fact, it is your non-verbal communication that speaks loudest in a meeting, not your words. Aim to be serene.

The Discussion

Always come across as being engaged, showing through your body language that you care about everyone in the room. Be aware of your body language – are you leaning forward and showing real interest when being spoken to? Are you nodding and smiling while the minister is speaking to show that you are actively listening? Are you regularly looking around the whole group, so everyone feels involved?

Avoid threatening behaviours like pointing with your finger – use an open hand if you do need to point. Never check emails on your smartphone – the action shows your audience that either you think they are less important than your emails, or you’re bored, or both. Do not let your thigh vibrate up and down – a common nervous tic that you will miss if you are not consciously monitoring your body language.

The Agenda

If you have a simple message and only a couple of points to make, you can be relaxed if you have less time for the meeting than expected – and this always seems to happen. The minister will be running late, and introductions and greetings always take longer than anticipated. Just sitting down and sorting out the coffee takes time and can seem an age if you are worried about time running out.

Mentally accept that you are not on home ground – you are not in control of the time, the seating arrangements or the agenda. Be patient and be prepared to go with the flow and take the opportunities to make your points when they come along.

Make Your Points and Listen

Keep questions and statements short and actively listen to the reply. You can learn a lot from the questions you are being asked, so always be conscious of allowing space for replies and discussion.

Simplicity in your plan will help you avoid the trap of talking too long. A common mistake is spending twenty minutes asking a question or making a statement, because there were so many points in the plan. A good rule of thumb is to make two-minute statements and questions of less than twenty seconds.

At the End

Do – take time to get up, go round the table and thank the minister and her team. It gives you the chance, physically and psychologically, to ‘close the gap’ and keep a rapport.

Do not – get up and walk off to the exit, muttering your excuses that you have to hurry to the next meeting. Doing this will damage the positive feelings and rapport you have just worked so hard to create.

Afterwards

Do - send a brief thank you notes to the minister and to the people who helped set up the meeting. The sooner you send it the better – just the act of sending a quick thank you note leaves a good impression. Everyone likes being thanked and being told that their help was appreciated.

Do not – hold a press conference revealing details of the meeting, or worse, criticising the minister. The media may like it, but trust will be destroyed, and you will never be asked back.

High-level meetings for high stakes are tense and pressured. They are often short, uncomfortable and unpredictable. Hardly the ideal conditions if you are hoping to get a favourable hearing from a top-level decision maker. Maximise your chances of performing well under pressure by staying serene with a simple plan.

Darcy Nicolle is CEO of Political Solutions and author of “The Secret Art of Lobbying” the essential business guide to winning in the political jungle. Learn more

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