Today I want to take up a question from one of the readers of tacticalprojectmanager.com.
Navin, a construction project manager, recently asked me:
„How should I deal with large meetings in a project, where sometimes the project manager is expected to answer all the questions. I am bit wary of this situation. Can you please advise how to deal with this.“
This is a great question.
I’m sure all of you can relate to Navin’s concerns.
I certainly can! I used to be NERVOUS AS HELL when I had to walk into a packed meeting room in my days as a junior PM.
No breakfast on the day of the meeting 🙂
When you step into a project management role, you suddenly become the center of attention, and everybody expects you to know everything.
What’s the best way to handle such large project meetings?
The answer: preparation.
There are two good ways to prepare:
- Connect with the key participants in advance
- Anticipate the questions of your audience
Let’s look at each strategy in detail.
Strategy #1: Connect with the key participants in advance
What makes us so scared of large meetings? We are going to be confronted with a bunch of people we haven’t met before.
Who are these people?
Will they will treat me in a fair way?
Or: Will they let me run into the open knife?
There’s no reason why we have to assume anything bad, but still our brain tries to identify all the things that can go wrong, and our mind can get totally messed up. Considering the fact that it’s the meeting of strangers that makes us feel anxious, the best way to break this fear is by reaching out to those „strangers“ upfront in a completely unofficial context.
What I do is I simply walk by their office to say ‚hello‘.
I take a peak inside their office, establish eye contact and say something like:
- Me: “Hi, I’m Fred Smith, the guy who invited you for the meeting next Thursday, where we’ll be discussing the Accelerator Project. I just wanted to say hi – looking forward to seeing you next week!”
- Other person: „Oh, hi Fred, nice to meet you, yes I’ve blocked the time in my calendar. See you next week.”
Engage in some more small-talk (“thank God it’s Friday”), and then leave.
By doing so, you’ve established the first contact and crushed this „wall“ of anxiety.
What if the person you’re trying to reach is located at some other place?
Grab the phone and call the person. I know this might give a strange feeling
in the stomach, but again you have to take action to overcome your fear.
Here are some great ‚hooks‘ you can use for such a call:
- ‘I just wanted to confirm you are coming to our meeting next Thursday’
- ‘Just wanted to check with you whether you need any further input from my side’ (useful when you expect the attendant to prepare / do something for the meeting)
I guess you will have much better and more specific reasons for making such a call.
Of course, you don’t have to reach out to EVERYONE on the invitation list.
Particularly, you should pre-connect with managers and other influential folks
in the organization, which includes the notorious troublemakers that have the
power to approve or decline your request for resources.
Be kind to them, give compliments, and your meeting will go a lot better
than without any preparation.
Strategy #2: Anticipate the questions of your audience:
Now that you’ve reached out to those „strangers“ who will attend your meeting, these folks shouldn’t feel like strangers to you anymore. Now it is time for some tactical preparation.
Tactical preparation for a meeting means to ask yourself:
- „What questions might the attendants be asking me?“ and
- „How are they going to respond to my idea / the news I’m going to deliver?“
Let’s assume you’re planning to host a project kick-off meeting.
People might not be happy about the many days you expect them to contribute („I told you I don’t have that much time — I can only contribute one day per week maximum“). Or they may be concerned about cost, about having to give up power, or about the amount of travel required. These are the typical concerns in a project.
What you have to do is to anticipate the questions, fears and concerns of the meeting audience, and plan your response in advance.
Do you have to know everything?
There will always be questions coming up in a meeting that you did not anticipate. You will not be prepared, and you might not know the answer.
That’s totally ok. You can’t know everything.
The best way to respond is by being honest:
„Thank you for your question. I don’t have an answer for you right now. Let me check it and get back to you.”
You include the question in your meeting minutes, and reply back to the person that raised the question a few days later.
Never state anything you are not 100% sure is true. And never make any promises or concessions you haven’t thought through. I will regret those later.
You become better with experience
Project management is a skill you build through experience. The same is true for leading effective meetings. As a beginning project manager, your meetings may be chaotic, or even painful 🙂 Keep trying and you’ll get better.
In the end you will enjoy leading meetings.
Here’s what I want to know from you
What was your biggest challenge when it comes to leading meetings? Post the answer in the comments.