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Build strong relationships with active participation

After a long flight to Tokyo, Japan, the sight of two thousand people in the audience for the keynote address at the technology conference was impressive. The presentation moved slowly as frequent pauses allowed the interpreter to convert the original spoken and written English on the slides to Japanese. After about twenty minutes, it seemed that two thousand heads rested on his shoulders while the entire audience had fallen asleep. The interpreter insisted that they were listening and not sleeping, so please continue. After all the effort and time to prepare and travel to the other side of the world only to meet a sleeping audience, the last thirty minutes of the talk were sheer monotony.

How you participate in meetings has a direct effect on the motivation and level of participation of other people in the meeting. Technology has become an excuse to continue what you were doing outside of the meeting, while the meeting is in progress. A prospect doesn’t want to look at the back of your laptop screen and watch you type while trying to build a relationship with you. You can try to justify this laptop behavior by suggesting that you rely on the laptop to take notes during the meeting. The problem is that your notes don’t impress the people on the other side of the table.

Smartphones are equally offensive. Yes, you hold the phone under the table and look down to read it. Somehow you think the other people in the room don’t realize that you’re busy tapping the small screen in front of you and not engaging them in conversation. All they see is someone who seems to be focused on something other than the most important people and conversation in the room. Your behavior suggests to them that whatever is happening in front of you is much more important than them. Clearly, that is a serious mistake.

The first good step to active participation is to make sure you remove distractions from the conversation, such as those from laptops and smartphones. Of course, active participation goes far beyond simply removing distractions. Focus your attention on the other party or parties in the meeting. Ask insightful questions to demonstrate your interest in them and their business needs. Acknowledge the key points they are making to encourage them to continue sharing. Ask for clarification if they say something that might seem a bit ambiguous or unclear. If you are giving a presentation at a meeting, make sure the audience is following and grasping the key points you are communicating.

Avoid talking endlessly to show how much you know. All it does is confirm that you are not listening and that your focus is on yourself. Throwing out a scripted endless speech without engaging the audience with questions and clarifications will certainly turn them off. Watch their body language for signs that they are reacting to what you are saying and use these as cues to expose more or ask questions. The more you show you care about their success, the more they will learn to respect and trust you. Active participation builds trust, which in turn builds strong relationships.

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