Episode 1: How to Succeed in Meetings in English

how to succeed in meetings in English

Welcome to the very first episode of the Community podcast!

I have been looking forward to getting started with the podcast for a while now, and here it finally is!

Each podcast episode includes the sections “Business Word of the Week” and “Phrase of the Week” as well as a main topic.  In this first episode the main topic is “How to Succeed in Meetings in English”.  I talk about how important it is to prepare before a meeting, and how exactly you can go about this.  Also, as a non-native speaker of English, it is important to have some phrases pre-prepared and ready to use before you go into a meeting, and so I am including some phrases in this podcast.

Being successful in meetings is difficult enough when everything is conducted in your own language, but when it is in English and your native language is not English, then it can by doubly difficult!  Hopefully in this audio, I can help you overcome some of the issues typically encountered by non-native speakers in English, and help you to be even more successful in your career!

What is your experience of attending meetings in English?

Do you find it difficult?  Are there any particular strategies which you find helpful?

Please let me know what you think in the comments section below, and all the best!

Paul

Here is the full transcript:

Hi there. I’m Paul Urwin, and welcome to the very first episode of the Business English Community Podcast, where English meets business and culture. I discuss strategies, techniques, vocabulary, phrases, grammar, and much more. Sign up for a free online training session at www.businessenglishcommunity.com.

Right. Let’s get started. Well, I am really, really looking forward to getting into this podcast and helping you as much as I possibly can to improve your level of business English. This podcast is aimed at intermediate and advanced speakers. We will be covering all aspects of business English and really helping you to get to the next level. If you wish to get in touch with me, you can contact me via the website. There is a contact form on the website, and I’m looking forward to answering any of your questions.

In this episode I’m going to be talking about success in meetings. Attending a meeting when you are not a native speaker of English and the meeting is going to be in English requires certain strategies and techniques right from the outset, so I’m going to give you a few suggestions.

First of all, word of the week, the word of the week — well, it’s actually two words this week — is balance sheet. Balance sheet. Well, balance sheet is part of a set of financial statements, part of a set of accounts. It’s one component, and on the balance sheet you will find the assets, that is, everything that the company owns; and the liabilities, everything that the company owes; and the difference between assets and liabilities, which is called shareholders’ equity, that is, the value that the company has, which is going to be the difference between assets and liabilities, so that’s all found on the balance sheet and that’s this week’s word of the week.

Okay. Well, let’s get into our main section now, our main section on succeeding in meetings in English, so a couple of general points just to get started. I think when you are attending or running meetings in English and English is not your first language, you really want people to focus on your message. You really want your colleagues, your coworkers, your boss, your clients, anyone involved to focus on your message, to focus on what you are saying and not to focus on your level of English, unless it’s to say what a great level of English you have. But not to focus on any mistakes that you might make, not to focus on errors, not to think or believe that you do not a sufficient level of English in order to be in that situation, so how can we make sure that we are in a good position?

Well, one part of that is obviously improving your level or having your level sufficiently high enough to operate in that environment, but another key component is confidence. It’s very important that you are confident in your abilities and that you show your abilities in that meeting, so I’m going to give you a couple of ideas as we go through this.

First of all, before the meeting, what should you do? Well, I think there’s a number of different things that you can plan before the meeting. In fact, it reminds me of that phrase, “Fail to plan, plan to fail,” or, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” In other words, it’s really, really important that you prepare before the meeting.

Now, the first thing I’m going to ask is, is the meeting actually necessary? Lots of people become very frustrated by unnecessary meetings, so is the meeting necessary? And what is everybody’s role in the meeting? Of course, if you are not organizing the meeting, you are an attendee, then you may have no option other than to attend even if you don’t completely believe it’s necessary. However, if you are organizing the meeting, you certainly usually would have to option to decide whether the meeting is going to be necessary or not. Perhaps a conference call would be more appropriate, perhaps a group email, perhaps some other kind of interaction.

But if the meeting is necessary, then it’s that you invite the right people to the meeting if you are organizing it. There’s no point in having people in the meeting who are not going to participate, who don’t a role to play in that meeting. Even if they are only there to receive information, it is important that they have a role in that meeting. You might want to get people on your side as well, so if you have any key decision makers, or if you require support or buy-in from someone, then it’s always a good idea to have them in the meeting, so the first point is to get the right people in that meeting.

Second of all, plan an agenda. If you are running this meeting, it’s very important that you plan an agenda, and as a non-native speaker this is going to help you enormously. It’s not that difficult sometimes to run a meeting without an agenda if you are a native speaker and completely confident in the subject area, but if you are a non-native speaker this is one of those little points that can really help you. It gives you a structure to the meeting. It tells everyone where you are going next, and going back to that original point, what does that help people to do? It helps people to focus on the message and not to focus on any language or linguistic issues. In fact, even if you are a native speaker, I think it’s a really good idea to have an agenda, but certainly as a non-native speaker of English, for meetings in English, planning an agenda, having an agenda will certainly help you.

Next up is to confirm the schedule for the meeting, to confirm the time for the meeting, and to make sure that the meeting is actually confirmed. In certain cultures it’s not really necessary to confirm a meeting. If today is a Monday and I book a meeting on Friday, and everyone says yes, then that meeting is confirmed and it doesn’t need to be reconfirmed or anything like that. In other cultures, even though that meeting has been accepted, it makes a lot of sense to confirm the meeting on Wednesday or Thursday. In any case, I think it’s always good to have a confirmation before the meeting to make sure everyone is onboard.

Now, that’s not a specific language issue, but again, what am I suggesting? What am I doing? I’m suggesting that you make everything else completely organized so that your language becomes less of an issue. If you are insecure about speaking in meetings in English, which you might be, then you need to make sure that everything else is in place, and if everything is in place, you’re going to be more confident in the meeting. If you are running to get to a meeting at the last minute, if you are going to be late for a meeting, how is that going to make you feel? That’s going to make you feel uncomfortable, it’s going to make you feel rushed, and you might not perform at your best in the language, so some of the language strategies involve non-language strategies, if you like.

Now in terms of English, what can you do before the meeting? Well, whatever your role is, whether you are running the meeting or whether you are going to be attending the meeting and commenting on certain things, it is very likely that you will have a good idea regarding what is going to happen in that meeting. In other words, what people are going to be talking about, what kinds of questions are going to come up, what kinds of questions you might have and so on. Now if that’s the case, then it makes a lot of sense to prepare those questions and those comments beforehand. You can write them out in English on a piece of paper, you can practice them with a colleague or a friend or a native speaking teacher, so you can really ensure that you have texts, comments, questions that are correct before you go in to the meeting room, and again, that should give you a large degree of confidence.

Let’s imagine that you are in a meeting and you want to ask a question, and you feel nervous, you have no idea how to phrase that question in English. Well, that’s not going to really help you very much when it comes to asking the question. If you have a series of questions that you have written out beforehand, that you have practiced, that you have practiced in terms of pronunciation, then you are going to be much more confident. Now of course, not all of the questions that you pre-plan or not all of the comments are going to come up necessarily. You need to be able to adapt. You need to be able to change in accordance with the requirements or the situation that is unfolding in front of you, but certainly the more you prepare, the more confident you are going to be when it actually comes to that moment of speaking or interacting in the meeting.

Really important to practice reading those comments and questions out loud before you get into the meeting. It’s not just enough to write them down on a piece of paper, so practice reading aloud. I’d like you to think about a non-native English speaker, someone perhaps in your organization, perhaps some kind of celebrity, someone that you know who is not American or not English, who operates in English, nevertheless. Now, you probably have the tendency to believe that that person is a natural, that that person has an incredibly ability in the English language, even though they are not a native speaker.

Well, let me tell you something. What you probably don’t know and what has almost certainly happened behind the scenes is that that person has prepared, that person has practiced, that person is reading comments and questions aloud in their house before they get to a presentation or before they get to a meeting, and obviously over the years people become more and more confident, and maybe require less and less practice, but certainly behind the successful non-native speakers you will usually find a lot of preparation and a lot of practice.

Okay, so now let’s move on to the actual meeting itself. The first thing that I’m going to suggest is be on time. Turn up on time. You want to get your comments and your questions across effectively and clearly in English, and turning up late is simply not going to help in any way, so be on time. Also try and get a good seat within the meeting or a good position at the table. Well, why is that important in terms of your language? What sometimes happens is that non-native speakers who are not 100% confident go into a meeting and try and hide away in a corner, or in the third row of seats behind everyone else or something like that.

Well, when it comes to speaking, they don’t speak from a position of confidence. They are kind of hidden away and may be obstructed by something, and that really does not help that person to get their message across clearly at all. If you have a good position at the table, when someone asks a question, you are going to hear it more clearly, and you are going to be able to respond more easily and more effectively, so you might not think that that should have a significant influence on how you speak English, but it’s all about the small little points that add up, that make a difference overall.

Now, how are you going to get the meeting started? Are you going to start with a hug and a handshake? Well, that depends on the culture, of course. I think in many cultures a handshake is normal to start a meeting, certainly with clients or meetings that involve different parties. Often, when it’s an internal meeting, there’s no need for a handshake all the time, but of course it does depend on the culture. Then often there will be a little session of small talk, a little bit of chitchat to get the meeting going. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that and I think that it can help everyone in the room to get to know each other a little bit better, if they don’t each other, and also just to relax a little bit before they get into the real substance of the meeting.

Nevertheless, it’s important to understand how much is normal and how much is expected in terms of the small talk, and again that depends on the culture. Many non-native speakers fall down in the sense that they might be prepared for the technical side of things, but are very unprepared when it comes to having a chat, having a friendly chat with someone, so it’s also important to have an idea what kinds of questions might come up in that informal setting and prepare beforehand.

Okay. Well, next in terms of getting the meeting started, I think a nice clear introduction or a nice clear couple of phrases can really help people to settle into the meeting and focus their minds on the purpose, why they are there and what all of you together are hoping to achieve, so let me give you a couple of phrases, a couple of examples.

The first one is, “The main purpose of this meeting is to analyze our staffing needs for next year. The main purpose of this meeting is to analyze our staffing needs for next year,” so really just setting out what the meeting is about right at the beginning. What about this one? “We are here today to discuss the upcoming merger and how it affects all of us. We are here today to discuss the upcoming merger and how it affects all of us.” Those kinds of phrases right at the beginning of the meeting can really help to set the tone and make it clear where you are going.

It’s also a good idea to involve environment in the meeting, and to help that perhaps you should have some phrases ready to use, simple phrases such as, “What do you think? What do you think about” ta da da. “What’s your opinion? What’s your opinion regarding” ta da da. So just simple phrases such as, “What do you think about,” or, “What’s your opinion on” can help to involve other people.

It’s also a good idea to take notes yourself, or to have an official minute taker or note taker so that you have a record of what’s going on in the meeting, but I do believe it’s key to involve environment in the meeting. Everyone is there for a reason, and normally that reason is to participate in some way. Focusing on your performance in the meeting. If you don’t get involved, no one is going to be able to benefit from your knowledge, from your experience, no one is going to understand what your point of view is, and I don’t want the language, I don’t want your English to hold you back.

The way to improve is to immerse yourself in these situations. Prepare beforehand? Yes, but when you’re in the meeting, go for it. Ask those questions. Give your comments. Interact with other people and make sure that your language is not an issue. Make sure that people leave that room talking about your opinion, discussing your ideas, and not saying, “Oh, that person didn’t say very much.” They won’t know about your English level, in the sense that they won’t focus on it, unless you make them focus on it. They will focus on your message if you make them and encourage them to focus on your message, so that’s what I’m going to suggest that you do.

A couple of phrases now to conclude the meeting. Very simple but very useful to have. “Okay. Well, that concludes matters for today. Okay. Well, that concludes matters for today.” How about this one? “Great. That brings us to the end of today’s agenda. Great. That brings us to the end of today’s agenda.” So simple phrases just to wrap up the meeting. “Thank you for your time today. Thank you for your time today.” It’s always a good idea to thank people.

I also believe that it’s important to stick to the length of the meeting. If the meeting is one hour, perhaps you should stick to that one hour limit. If you need more time, book another meeting. That’s my suggestion anyway. Finish the meeting in a positive manner and focus on what needs to be achieved after the meeting, who is going to follow up with each of the tasks or next steps, so again a couple of general points there. But in terms of your language ability, it boils down to preparing before the meeting, getting yourself in a good, confident position during the meeting, asking the right questions that you have prepared beforehand, interacting positively, and wrapping up the meeting positively, so those are my suggestions for successful meetings. I hope you find them really useful.

Now, I’m going to be wrapping up this podcast in just a minute, but first of all, I want to finish up with the phrase of the week, the phrase of the week, and this week’s phrase is, “To put the ball in someone else’s court. To put the ball in someone else’s court.” Well, what am I talking about here? If you could imagine a couple of people playing tennis, well, obviously you hit the ball over the net from one person to the other, and you can say, “Put the ball in someone else’s court.” So perhaps you can imagine that this phrase might have come from tennis. Well, we’re not really playing tennis that much in the world of business, so what’s this got to do with business English?

It really refers to passing a task onto someone else so that is their responsibility. If I hit the tennis ball over the net, it’s the other person or the other player’s job to hit it back to me. That is their task. In business terms, if I put the ball in someone else’s court, it’s their turn to act and to do something about that particular task, so it might be that I have a report that needs finishing off and I send it to a colleague, and they then need to deal with that to finish it off. That would be to put that job in their court. It’s kind of getting it off my desk and putting it on someone else’s desk, putting the task, delegating, or passing the task over to them, so that’s to put the ball in someone else’s court, a very useful phrase. That’s this week’s phrase of the week.

Okay. Well, that’s it for this weeks. Thanks so much for listening. Remember, keep practicing, keep taking action, and you will be able to take your business English to the next level. Check out businessenglishcommunity.com for more resources, including a completely free audiobook and a completely free online training session. If you looking for personalized feedback, regular training, and interaction with me, the team, and other students like you from around the globe, then come and join us. My name is Paul. All the best, and bye for now.

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