Two of the situations I regularly find myself in thanks to my various roles are committee meetings and networking events. Both scenarios have taught me a lot about getting the best out of the people around you, and out of yourself, whether you are ‘in the chair’ or ‘out of your chair’ at the time. Let me explain …
In the chair
I am a member of two audit and risk committees. I do this work on a voluntary basis for an Australian not-for-profit group and a global accounting body, primarily because I am passionate about both organisations and want to help them strengthen and grow. And, just in case you think I’m being totally altruistic, such work raises my profile and positions me as a potential board member, or even chairperson, as part of my 10-year plan.
I have been watching the chairs (both of whom are women) run the meetings for these committees and I can see the challenge of bringing the audience together. This is especially difficult when some committee members are in the room and some are hooked up via technology from the other side of the world.
The chair’s job is to make sure everyone in the meeting is considered. She (or he) needs to balance her own thoughts and ideas with being open to what others have to say. She needs to encourage a diverse perspective and ensure everyone at the meeting is contributing 100 per cent.
It is easy to be focused on what’s happening in the room and forget those on remote hook-ups are possibly missing physical and verbal cues that would otherwise give them the chance to join a discussion.
The best chairs are sensitive to those not in the room. They check in and check back in, ensuring everyone feels they have been heard. They check in with all participants at each agenda item and often consult key people before the meeting, so they know in advance what concerns might be raised and the challenges that need to be dealt with during the meeting.
Out of your chair
These are the situations where you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone to make the most of engagements with others.
I was at a workshop recently where the topic was strategic networking and storytelling. Now, I consider myself a strong networker. I enjoy meeting people and working out how I can connect, help and explore areas in which to collaborate. But I found myself at this workshop staying close to the women on the table I was hosting.
Part of the workshop required us to get up and connect with people from other tables and this exercise reminded me how we must always look for moments to practise networking.
I learnt something from this workshop that was even more powerful than the content being presented. Even though I am well aware of the power of networking, and indeed consider myself an expert in this area, it reminded me to get out of my chair – and, when I did, I found a kindred spirit in the room.
The key for me was to remember that, in or out of a chair, I should always be open to engaging with and learning from others. You never know who is sitting across the side of the room, or the other side of the world, with something worthwhile for you to consider.