I’ll be honest, I have never sold a business I started for more than $10 million. But, I recently walked into a meeting with a group of six entrepreneurs, and at least three of them had already done it. Two of the other people in attendance were wildly successful creators.
The sixth member of the group was a business peer – and I felt most at ease with him being there. I was invited to lead the meeting based on my business and legal expertise, and generally speaking, I felt a little out of my league.
The insecure thoughts started rolling through my mind. I’ve been in this situation countless times, so I flipped the switch and went to work. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many others fall flat at the opening. So how do you own a room when you’re less experienced or less qualified than everyone else?
Here are 5 ways to own the room no matter what:
1. Make everyone feel comfortable, including yourself
If you’ve ever heard a great speaker, chances are you heard them open with a humorous or meaningful story. Stories bring us together and they highlight our collective need to participate. One of the first things you can (and should) do when you walk into a room to lead a meeting is make everyone feel comfortable. Equally important is making yourself feel comfortable.
Depending on the context, start with a story. Something simple that breaks the ice, or something deeper and more meaningful, if the attendees can benefit from the analogy you’ll inevitably make. And make sure the topic is easily within mental reach – no note cards necessary. By breaking the ice with a story, you’ll automatically feel more comfortable and you’ll also give everyone in the room a reason to relax.
“What we say is important… for in most cases the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” -Jim Beggs
2. Start, proceed, and end strong
In filmmaking and in music, we are typically led down a path of increased tension towards a crescendo, which then tapers off into a relaxed exit. In business meetings, you need to do the opposite. You need to start strong, proceed strong, and end strong. Each beat of a meeting needs to have meaningful impact on the purpose of the meeting. If not, your attendees will become disinterested, bored, and possibly even angry.
Prepare for a meeting by viewing it in three segments; your opening, the middle, and the closing. Each segment needs to propel the purpose of the meeting forward. When you structure your meeting this way, you also communicate confidence and control, as you know exactly where you’re going from start to finish.
3. Involve the experts
One of the easiest ways to enhance your own credibility is to establish non-obvious rapport with other experts in the room. This particular skill might take some time to develop, but it’s worth its weight in gold once you’ve mastered it.
I’m not a tax expert, so if there’s ever a meeting I’m running and a tax expert is in attendance, I’ll intentionally question something I already know by asking the tax expert to confirm that my perspective is correct.
Sure, this tactic can backfire if you ask open-ended questions which invite a narrative by the “expert,” but if you narrow the scope of your interaction primarily to reinforce what you’ve already said, you’ll be viewed as having a broader base of knowledge – with enough confidence to ask someone else for input. You’ll also gain positive nods from the other experts in the room, enhancing nonverbal support for your leadership throughout the room.
4. Respect time
One of the absolute worst things you can do when leading a room is wasting or controlling everyone’s time. If the meeting was scheduled for one hour, don’t go a minute longer – unless you’re specifically requested to do so. There’s no quicker way to destroy your credibility than proving that you’re not capable of leading within the constraints of the schedule.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been in meetings that were finished in half the time scheduled, but the person leading the meeting felt compelled to “take the hour.” If you scheduled an hour, but only need twenty minutes, stop at twenty minutes. If you scheduled twenty minutes, but needed an hour, reschedule or add another meeting to the schedule.
Show respect by valuing time. Your room will respect you. This technique also has an ancillary benefit – It gets you in the mode of allocating time properly. The more you work within time constraints, the less they become constraints.
“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” –Dale Carnegie
5. Don’t monologue
The greatest communicators in the world converse, even when they’re the only one talking. This happens on a few levels and with a handful of techniques. Engaging the audience, even in a small meeting, happens by asking questions, making gestures, and evoking emotions. At the end of the day, you don’t want people in your meeting thinking, “when is this person going to shut up?”
Rather, you want them engaged and focused because they want to hear what you have to say. Make people feel like they’re participating in a conversation and they’ll eat up every word you say.