Posted by Colin Ransom on 21 Jan 2013

I’ve been reflecting on the meetings I’ve attended over the last couple of months, and what constitutes a useful and engaging meeting in which attendees are willing to participate and absorb the information that’s delivered.

I’m fortunate to have been invited to lots of meetings with various organisations: Some as an active participant, and others as an observer, where the host is always keen to ask for feedback at the end as to how they’ve done.

I personally think that the effectiveness of a meeting or presentation depends almost entirely on the person holding it, rather than the attendees.

I have a really vivid memory of being at university and having to do a presentation to a group of around thirty people as part of the assessment for my marketing module. I was nervous about this for weeks, even though I planned and planned and planned, as I wanted to do well. The day came and it’s fair to say I was a nervous wreck. I stood there shaking, with sweaty palms and then eventually, my voice started to wobble. It’s fair to say I was mortified and felt pretty silly afterwards.

It didn’t kill me though and in fact, it was a huge blessing in disguise as it made me more determined to master this art of presenting to groups. The task was set, and the challenge accepted.


The first point I cover with clients is around planning. I cannot stress how important this is. In our industry, I often see people arrive for meetings without preparing at all. You cannot always “blag” this and often, the fact that you didn’t prepare will stand out a mile. Your audience may well be quite unforgiving, especially if they are your own team, and you’ll likely not be able to engage them at all. This, frankly, is a waste of everyone’s time.

Coping with Nerves

This can be a tricky one to address. I’ve found that the best way to get around this is to practice. If a large event of any kind is approaching and you feel anxious about giving a speech or hosting, it might be worth organising a few smaller scale ones before the big day so you can practice speaking to a group. Hold a daily brief and de-brief, if you don’t already.

Another technique I used with a client was one where he’d begin the meeting sitting down WITH his audience, and then as his fear of the situation would start to dissipate, he’d turn and sit FACING his audience, and then he’d eventually stand up. Visual aids such as a flip chart or a screen can detract attention from the speaker also, giving the feeling that you’re not completely in the spotlight.

It’s very important not to fumble when standing in front of a group. This is a common way that a speaker can expend that nervous energy. This energy should be employed in the delivery of the presentation or speech. Shuffling papers, tidying the desk below you, fiddling with clothing etc can make it look as if you’re only 50% on board with what you’re actually doing. Don’t do this.

Body Language

Eye contact is extremely important. You should try to make eye contact with everyone there, but be careful not to over-do this and make anyone feel they’re being put on the spot. This will help to hold the audience attention as it makes everyone feel involved.

Another technique I’ve used is buddying, where there will be two speakers or hosts who will share responsibility for the delivery of the session. This can help to relieve some of the pressure of doing this alone.

Fear of Failure

Failing these, you might want to get into the real nitty gritty about the root causes of these fears and anxieties that are holding you back. It helps to get these down on paper. You could ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is it exactly that I’m afraid of?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen, and how long would it take me to recover from it emotionally?
  • Do I REALLY need to invest my valuable time and energy into worrying about this?

Remember it’s only natural to be nervous when you’ve not had a lot of experience at doing something. The point is if you’re willing to make an effort this will show, no matter how nervous you are. Nobody is going to think less of you because you didn’t get it entirely right and if they do, well, that’s their problem.

Drop us a message if you’d like to talk about any of this further.

Colin – RH

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