Working Wounded: Speaking at Meetings

Dear WOUNDED: :: I recently stepped into an executive meeting. I thought I was just an observer until I heard my boss call my name. I was flustered.

ANSWER: Reading your email reminded me of a Nashville, Tenn. window washer. He made headlines when rescue workers were summoned after he was spotted hanging motionless off the 20th floor of the Third Bank Building. The noise of the rescue vehicles awoke him and he sheepishly lowered himself down to the street.

Beyond his embarrassment, that window washer survived his quick nap at work. But you've learned that for many of us, there can be problems when you take shut-eye during working hours. I've listed three Do's and one Don't below for how to be prepared next time the podium is suddenly yours. For more, check out "The Elements of Great Public Speaking" by Lyman MacInnis (10 Speed, 2006).

DO Keep your focus. In meetings I tend to suffer from MEGO -- "My Eyes Glaze Over." I've learned that by staying awake, there are almost always opportunities to shine. As you're listening to the meeting, think about your area of expertise and experience and how it can contribute to the current discussion. In short, resist the temptation to become passive and always be thinking about how to contribute. The great news, this ability to listen will also help you with your spouse, partner, friends and family.

DO Pick your spots. Remember how I just suggested that you should always be looking for opportunities to contribute? Please allow me to contradict myself -- just because you're thinking about how to contribute, it doesn't mean that you have to contribute. I've learned that when you're always talking people can tend to treat your comments as less than special. Don't let them tire of hearing your voice and you might notice more people taking note of what you have to say.

DO Keep it short. Following a meeting a colleague once observed that all of my comments went on and on. I reminded him that we were discussing a complex topic. He reminded me, "They can always ask follow up questions, never talk for more than two minutes." He was right. Most people drone on and on to the point that people dread when they get the floor at a meeting. Be the person that people look forward to hearing by keeping it short.

DON'T Don't overdo. As my uncle used to say, "You eat a watermelon one bite at a time." It's great to have a big picture, but don't try to solve all the company's problems in one short presentation. I'm not saying to shy away from big topics, just be sure that you don't come across as a windbag who is in over his, or her, head.

Follow these tips, and ask your boss to give you a bit more warning so you can prepare, and you won't be left hanging next time you're asked to give an impromptu speech.

Thought for the Week

"The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert Humphrey

List of the Week

A more casual approach to dressing for work … How we dress at work today

  • Formal business clothes: 9 percent in 2007, down from 12 percent in 2002
  • Casual business: 43 percent in 2007, up from 32 percent in 2002
  • Casual street clothes: 28 percent in 2007, down from 32 percent in 2002
  • Uniform: 19 percent in 2007, down from 23 percent in 2002

From: Gallup

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. He'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you have better ideas than he does. His books include "The Boss's Survival Guide" and "Gray Matters: The Work place Survival Guide." Send your questions or comments to him via: publishes a new Working Wounded column every Friday. This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.