Have you ever sat in a meeting feeling invisible or like it was difficult to get the chair or facilitator’s attention? It could have been because of where you sat. There are three places at a meeting table that are more noticeable to the person running the meeting. Assuming the facilitator is sitting at place number 1 in the diagram below, the most visible seats are number 3, 5 and 7. These are the power seats.
Does that seem surprising? Many people believe in addition to seat 5, spots 2 and 8 are the most visible. However, seats 2 and 8 are often overlooked by the meeting chair. Additionally, meeting protocol usually dictates that the more senior level people or those who have more to do with the meeting sit in chairs 2 and 8.
Sitting in the power spots is a good start to increasing your visibility, but there are other actions you can take to make sure you are seen and heard.
- Sit up straight, lean in a bit and look at the facilitator to get his attention.
- Speak up, rather than wait to be called on. I don’t mean to interrupt others. Simply raise your hand to get the chair’s attention, if doing so is typical for your company culture. Or, jump in with what you have to say when there is a break in the discussion. This might be a very short break, so you have to be ready to grab the floor when someone is wrapping up.
- Stay positive and helpful. If you want to be heard, make sure what you’re saying is useful to the discussion. Avoid discounting other people’s ideas or complaining.
- Stay focused. Put your digital device away so that you’re not tempted to look at it when it buzzes, lights up or rings. You can’t be present if you’re looking at your phone. And, the facilitator may discount you for not paying attention.
- Avoid rambling. State what you need to say and then stop. Having the floor does not grant you permission to pontificate or be long-winded. When you are succinct, the chair is more likely to call on you.
- Disagree diplomatically. If you disagree with what someone is saying, rather than saying she is wrong acknowledge what she said and say, “I’d like to add to that.” Or, “I’d like to offer another way of looking at ….”
A note for meeting facilitators: If there are two people who are confrontational with each other there is also a place you can seat them to minimize clashes. Put them on the same side of the table separated by someone, rather than across the table or next to each other. In the diagram above, you would have them sit in seats 2 and 4 or 6 and 8. If you know these people are argumentative with each other before the meeting, you can create a seating chart or place name plates at each seat to ensure people sit in your intended spots. If that would be unusual for you, simply state you want to mix things up to encourage more discussion.
If you want to be more visible and effective at your next meeting, just remember, be polite, be bold and sit in the power seats.