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Introvert in Product - Meeting Hacks
I could feel my heart pounding, palms kind of sweaty, head's busy with different potential scenarios running through it. I felt anxious, nervous, and somewhat overwhelmed before it even started.
It sounded like lyrics from some pop songs. In fact, it was just how I felt right before going into a high stake meeting or a big presentation. It is still how I always feel today, every time I'm stepping into a big meeting.
I'm deep down an introvert, after all.
But I'm not just an introvert. I'm also an introvert in product, the career I love deeply and are passionate about. Meetings are not only unavoidable. They're important tools for product managers to connect, to get information, to influence, and to drive decisions and outcomes. So I have to do it. I have to do it well.
In this post, I want to shift gear to touch upon the series I have not written about in a while - Introvert in Product, and share specifically about how I manage to overcome my meeting challenges as an introvert. And I'm going to break it down into:
Before the meeting
In the meeting
After the meeting
It's my hope that it not only helps fellow introverts in product, the common practices would be helpful to all others too.
(feel free to review my previous posts in the Introvert in Product series)
Before the Meeting
As an introvert, I instinctively get nervous and often over think before going into a meeting. The level of my reaction grows with the number of people in the room and the height of the stakes. I couldn't always logically explain. I just couldn't help it.
In the early days, I managed to suppress the feeling and pretend that I was fully at ease. What ended up happening was that I often got knocked off my surface level calm very quickly as soon as the meeting started, and the matter got even worse.
So I learned to deal with it differently. Here's my "hacks" (or techniques) that actually work!
#1. Prepare but Don't Over Prepare:
Introverts are much more sensitive to external stimulus, including totally unanticipated conversations, discussions, and questions happening in the meetings. To counter it, the best way is to prepare well before the meetings. But, make sure not to over prepare. Over prepare sometimes will make it worse, as I've learned the hard way. Let me elaborate what's the best way to prepare, and what over-preparation you should avoid. To properly prepare:
Crisply identify and keep in my the top goals you want to accomplish in the meeting
Think about how you'd structure the conversations to best accomplish the goals (high level agenda, flow, frameworks you'd use to help the team with decision making etc.)
Know who's attending, their roles in the specific discussion, and their anticipated standpoints (just high level, no needs to be exhaustive).
The over-preparation to avoid?
Attempt to script or memorize your speech and arguments
Think through all possible scenarios of what might be happening in the discussions
Set your own expectation too rigidly that the meeting outcome has to be this and that (different from being clear about the goals).
Remember, you can never control what other people think, act, talk, and the timings of these behaviors. That's the "fun" part of live meeting (vs a one-sided speech you give). But that's also why you should not expect that the meeting discussions to follow exactly how you wanted it. Any preparations behind this wrong expectation, is over preparation, and it will only make your meeting worse. Yes sometimes even worse than if you don't prepare at all.
I'm not trying to convert you into a full-on meditator, though I do believe and personally experience benefits from meditation in many parts of my life. That topic for another day, I do strongly recommend to use a few moments (even just a couple of minutes) right before the meeting to NOT think about anything, be fully present, and just experience how you feel. If you're like me, you would probably feel the nervousness, the anxiety, and any bodily sensations that come from them.
How exactly you do it is entirely up to you. For me, I'd take a few deep breaths, close my eyes, feel my breaths, feel these natural bodily sensations as how they actually feel, and just be fully in the moment without thinking about anything specifically. Then I'd open my eyes and go on with my meeting.
How does this even help with anything at all? First, it stops you from getting caught up in endless but unhelpful thoughts about how the meeting will likely go, what if something happened, several bad scenarios, or even some negative self blame on why you even get so nervous in the first place. Second, by bringing yourself into a mental state of being present and mindfulness before the meeting, you'll much more likely to be present and mindful in the meeting as well, which is key to having successful conversations.
What if I have back to back meetings and I don't have even a minute before the next? You ask. Yes unfortunately in that case, you don't have the luxury. But it still helps to even just take a couple of deep breaths before you hit that button to join the conference call (or after COVID, step into that conference room). Or even take a step further, whenever possible, block off time before any critical meeting just so that you can take the much needed time to get into the right mind state.
Yes these are all possible, because they are practically what I do. Said a PM who never had enough time in a week for all meetings.
In the Meeting
No more preparation, no more meditation, the meeting is officially ON. You're LIVE. Assuming you've done all the right things above pre-meeting, you should be off a good start. Of course, it doesn't change several challenging facts: There are high stake decisions to be made, it's a large and tough crowd you're having discussions with, you can't control what they're going to say, things can shift away from how you'd like it to go very quickly. Etc etc. And now you have to deal with it real time. Live.
Here's what I found useful:
Listening should be your default mode and you switch into talking mode only as needed. Remind yourself that throughout the meeting. Catch yourself in endless speaking mode, and bring yourself back to listening mode as soon as you can. This is important not only because listening is one of the keys to successful communications (as I outlined in Effective Product Manager - Communication), by listening it grounds you to the present, and forces you to pay attention to what's actually happening right now. Rather than being caught up in your own thought: what could've ideally happened, what's next I should say, oh no this is going south what do I do, etc. etc.). Listening equips you to respond better and more wisely.
This totally applies to all personality types. But especially as introverts, we should proud ourselves with good listening being one of our natural strengths. So use it well!
#4. Focus on goals:
Remember in before-the-meeting preparation I suggest you to think about the top goals to accomplish? Carry it into the meeting and stick with it.
Lets face it. Conversations can easily go different directions depending on the live conversations by all the attendees. Soon enough, it can go all over the place and totally off the track you'd like it to go, which in turn escalates your stress level on the spot, which in turns makes you even more nervous and anxious right there in the meeting. The vicious circle goes on in downward spiral just like that.
The best way to stop it and bring the discussion back on track, is to always remind yourself and everyone else the goal we'd like to accomplish in this meeting. In fact that should be where the meeting starts from: stating the goal of the meeting. Always. And then repeatedly point back to it throughout the conversation.
#5. Engage others:
As PMs we often have to lead the discussions and drive toward accomplishing specific goals in the meetings. Because of it, we often feel obliged to do most of the talking. The good news is, you don't need to talk the most to successfully drive the discussions. You can do it well (or better) by listening, providing structure to the conversation, and properly engaging others in the meeting.
What does it mean? Get the right people to talk at the right time. It includes frequently check in for feedback (e.g. "does this agenda sound good to everyone?"), invite for opinions (e.g. "John, you're an expert in this, what's your thought?"), ask targeted questions (e.g. "Bryce, can you share some context behind why we ended up selecting this design version?"), or even just ask to go around the room for opinions, statuses, or votes depending on the meeting.
It's not only an effective way to be inclusive and get the conversations flow in the right direction. It's also a great way (especially for introverts) to give yourself space, take a break from talking, and switch back to the much needed listening/thinking mode.
After the Meeting
So, you did your best in the meeting, and now it was wrapped. Your job is done, and you should feel totally relieved and are ready to fully move on to the next thing, right?
Not so fast. If you're like me, as an introvert, chances are you're not ready to let it go yet. At least mentally.
"How did I do in the meeting?"
"Oh shxt, I shouldn't have said that"
"On crap, I should have said that"
"How would the VP think of me? Would she see me as an ineffective speaker?"
"Geez there were a ton we talked about in the meeting, there's this, this, and that I need to follow up..."
And the list goes on for what could be in your self chatter right after the meeting. And it would totally distract you from the next thing, whatever that is. So what do you do to counter it? Here's my tips:
#6. Organize your thoughts on paper:
Spend 5 minute to organize all your reflections and key takeaways in your head, and importantly, onto the paper (I mean either physical paper or digital notes). Both organizing and putting it down on paper are keys. It's not scribbling on paper for whatever you remember. It's also not just organize in your head. By organizing it, you essentially do the synthesis and the digestion of what really matters. By putting it down on paper, you release it from your brain memory so your brain (as valuable but limited resource) can be freed up for the next thing.
#7. Take a break
You deserve it. Go take a walk. Grab a cup of tea or coffee. Listen to music. Browse Instagram. Chat with friends. Whatever relaxes you. Of course, when you can. (if you have back to back meetings, wait til the end of it).
Remember, as introverts, we need more "restorative niches" (referenced from Susan Cain's "Quiet - The Power of Introvert", meaning private time/space of our own) to restore our mind after being exposed to high stress/external stimulation. It's counter intuitive to dive right into the next thing thinking that it'll not waste the time. If you want to perform your best, make sure you take that well-deserved, much needed break after the meetings.
#8. Pat yourself on the back
Regardless of the outcome of the meeting. Regardless how many things you thought you could've done better. You did your best. You took away lesson learns how to improve the next meeting. For introverts it's never easy to run or even just participate in a high stress meeting like that. So congratulate yourself for preparing and getting through it. Do take away the takeaways. And move right on!
The above works for me. I don't necessarily assume all of them will work for you. Pick what you think suits you, and come up with your own techniques too. I believe it's a common principle though,
To acknowledge but to NOT push away your natural reaction
To embrace who you are and how you uniquely do things
To be kind to yourself
Find this article helpful and want more? You have your unique challenges and tips? Do let me know!
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