As business leaders, we must know how to run effective meetings that boost the company’s overall performance. In having confident communication with team members, we can engage and learn from each other, resulting in many wonderful benefits for the organization. In today’s episode, our guest is executive coach Alison Arnoff. Alison has a 30-year record helping giants like Intel and EMC plus seven startups resulting in six exits. She empowers leaders, aspiring leaders, and executives. She joins Elizabeth Bachman in a discussion focusing on running better meetings, diminishing yourself, and enrolling people in your innovative ideas. Listen to her and gain ideas on how people will show up for you and how they will appreciate that you made their job easier.
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Confident Communication: How To Run Better Meetings And Enroll People In Your Ideas With Alison Arnoff
This is a show where we interview experts from around the world on such themes as leadership, visibility and communication challenges. My guest is Alison Arnoff, who’s going to talk to us about meetings and how to get people enrolled in your idea. Before we go to the meat of the interview, I’d like to tell you about a free gift we have. It’s this free four-minute quiz called SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. If you are curious about how your presentation skills are doing, where you’re strong and where you might need a little bit of support, go to the website. That’s where you can see your strengths and the places where a little support might get you better results and the recognition that you deserve.
Alison Arnoff and I had a long wide-ranging conversation about the stages of confident communication, how you can lead a better meeting or be in a better meeting, including a little bit of managing up. It’s got a lot of things about very concrete and specific tips on how you can run a better meeting and be better in meetings. The official bio of Alison Arnoff is that she’s a former Division 1 swimmer and a retired triathlete. She has a 30-year record of success helping giants like Intel and EMC plus seven startups, which resulted in six exits. She empowers executives, leaders and aspiring leaders to “Dare 2 Be” peak performers. She’s always been a trailblazer. She received a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering at a time when women with those degrees were rare. She started her career as an engineer before moving to sales, marketing, management and leadership.
She’s also a competitive swimmer. Swimming at an elite level has taught Alison that real growth happens by pushing outside your comfort zone. This is a principle that she’s applied throughout her career and now applies to her clients. Supporting individuals to achieve their personal best is simply what she does. During her corporate career, Alison mastered the challenge of customer adoption of emerging technologies, creating product roadmaps, building and closing large complex seven-figure deals and leading effective teams. The core principles underneath her success and the success of her teams were coherent and effective communication and empathetic leadership.
She’s been an analyst for a venture capital firm, doing her best Shark Tank impression, as well as consulting with tech companies in their sales and marketing strategy. She’s a facilitator for The World Business & Executive Coaching Summit. She’s on the advisory board and a member of several tech companies. She advises several startup accelerators. I think you’re going to enjoy my conversation. Here’s to the talk with Alison Arnoff.
Alison Arnoff, welcome to Speakers Who Get Results.
I’m glad to be here, Elizabeth. Thank you for having me.
I’m happy that we connected because we have so much to talk about. I have all sorts of questions for you but I’d like to start with the question I ask all my guests. Who would be your dream interview? If you were to interview someone from history, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?
My person would be Marie Curie. She won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Physics, the first person to do both. She did it in a time where women were not supposed to have a voice. She had to get her college degree. There was a secret women’s university that was moving around that was hidden. They were trying to give her husband credit for her ideas without her. She had to deal with antisemitism as well and yet, she pushed through. She did not let what society said what her role was supposed to be stop her. She even created the portable X-ray machine used on the battlefields. She did many amazing things at a time where women were supposed to just be in the background. I love to ask her how did she find that fortitude to keep pushing forward no matter how many times she had been told that.If you don't know your audience or your target market, you’re not an effective leader. Click To Tweet
I never knew about the traveling secret university. What was this? I’d never heard that part of the story.
Women were not allowed to get higher education. There was a university for women but they had to move around because they could be arrested for teaching women.
Alison, I’m excited to have you here on the show because we were talking about how do you run better meetings or be seen better in meetings and enroll people in your ideas. It might sound like three different questions, but it’s all one thing and I know you teach courses in this. Where could we start?
I’d love to share an anecdote with you. I did a workshop on confident communications. I had a wide range of women there from 30-year IBM executives and founders. I was teaching it. We went through what I call The Four Stages of Confident Communications. The first one is the mindset. The mindset at a high level is the belief that what you have to say deserves to be heard. One of the things we talked about was that if you’re invited to a meeting or a conversation, they’ve already decided they value what you have to say. That was the number one thing. We went through all the skillset of how to prepare, how to execute, how to learn from that but the almost unanimous learning was the reminder that their voice deserves to be heard. They almost needed permission to find their voice again. These were all women. It’s interesting that sometimes we need a basic reminder that our word is important.
With mindset, which is so important, how do we sabotage ourselves then as women if we forget that?
We have these voices in our head and they are often not our own voices. They are our boss from the past, a parent or a bully. It’s someone in our past that we end up giving their voice way too much power. It’s a voice that says, “You’re not worthy. You don’t deserve it. You’re not good enough.” For some reason, we give power to those voices. I have an eight-stage process of how to stop those voices. The first thing is to acknowledge the voice and understand whose voice it is really. You then go through, “What’s true in that voice?” There might be some learning in there but then it’s, “What is it trying to protect you from?”
I’m a big believer that everybody needs a champion because we have to ultimately want to be our own best champion but it takes time. I’m a big believer to have champions. When you have that big meeting, who’s that person you need to talk to before that meeting that’s going to give you that, or it could be a song. I have a song. I was a competitive athlete and I have a song. It’s ELO’s Don’t Bring Me Down. When I have a big meeting, I’ll put that on beforehand to get me in that victory mindset. It’s about acknowledging that, “This is a voice. It thinks it’s trying to protect me. It isn’t. How do I counter that voice?” The champion is the best way to start with that.
Let’s say that we’re acknowledging and recognizing the voices in our head, but there are also things we say that deposition ourselves that pop out of the mouth without the brain intending it. I don’t know about you but my mouth often runs without my brain behind it. Talk to us a little bit about that.
It’s interesting because, as women, sometimes we don’t want to be too much. We’re trying to make sure we’re heard. We’re told we’re too much, so we go to the other extremes and we start minimizing our words. I’m not sure but I thought this might be a good idea. Maybe we could try this and all these things that say, “I’m not sure you should be listening to me.” I have a reputation for being very direct. I’m a street kid from Chicago. I don’t buffer things the way other people do.
I took a lot of people off guard as a woman in tech because I didn’t do those minimizer words, but I also got heard and seen, and I got a reputation of someone to listen to. As women, we need to own our intelligence and our gifts. We can work on how we deliver it in a way like we were talking about that enrolls people in it, but we don’t have to minimize our brilliance to make people comfortable. We can find a way to communicate it but not minimize it.
It’s those unconscious words such as “I’m sorry, excuse me,” or raising your hand in a meeting and saying, “Can I get permission to speak,” instead of just speaking. You never see a guy raising his hand. For those of you who are reading, if you check my website, I have a whole episode all about the words not to say. Talking about mindset, is there more to mindset in your Four Stages of Confident Communication?
There’s a lot to the mindset but there has got to be a belief. I can go through all the different pieces but you got to give yourself permission to be imperfect. I’d say that would be the other big one. There are lots of little ones but a lot of us overachievers and especially women have this expectation of perfection. If it’s not perfect, it’s not worthy. Yet perfection is a myth that we can never achieve so therefore, we are never worthy. Not only understanding the voice but giving yourself permission to be imperfect and to know that the words might not come up perfect. You might rehearse everything and that’s okay. You can still be impactful and meaningful, and not perfect.
What’s the next stage then?
It’s preparation. We were talking about meetings. Preparation is the work, what are you going to present? It’s even further. A big part of that is understanding the outcome. If I am going to be leading the meeting or presenting ideas, what is the outcome I want and by who and by when? We throw a lot of ideas out there and then we don’t bound them. We trust that others in the room are going to take action on our great idea. There is preparation. Make sure you know who in that meeting you want to enroll and what are you going to ask of them? Also, if you found that you might be a voice sometimes where you’re the only woman or the only minority, it’s good to get a pre-built consensus.
Figure out who are your potential champions in that meeting that you can say, “I’m going to be throwing a new idea out there. I’d love to hear your opinion in the meeting. I want to make sure that it doesn’t get glossed over to the next idea. Can I get your support in the meeting on that?” It’s a pre-building consensus. I don’t know how many meetings that I wish I’d done that ahead of time. Everyone’s ready to get their ideas out that often they are so quick onto the next idea. Enrolling people ahead of time is another thing I believe in preparation to make sure that there’s a pause on there.
That’s a great point. I talk a lot about allies on this series about enrolling your allies but also telling them in advance that you’re going to mention an idea and make sure that it gets heard. We’ve all seen the people who have no time to listen because they’re so busy thinking about what they’re going to say next.Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Perfection is a myth that we can never achieve. Click To Tweet
It’s also a mindset shift of thinking that asking for support is weak. It’s actually quite smart to be doing that. If this is something that’s important to you, set yourself up for success. You can do that by getting people pre-building consensus. The other thing that I remind people about is to make sure that you role model the behavior that you want. If you want people to be commenting on your ideas, make sure you’re commenting on other people’s ideas. You have to make sure that you’re not so focused on what you want to say and what you’re planning to do, and that you’re not being present for others.
If you want to enroll allies, you should be an ally. What if you suddenly have an idea but you haven’t thought it through yet? It’s important and it should be part of the conversation. What’s the best way to present that and be heard even if you haven’t fully fleshed it out?
It’s speaking up. Wait for the appropriate time and say, “I have an idea.” Don’t minimize it too much like saying that it’s not fully fleshed out. We got to make sure that in the process of trying to protect ourselves from not having a fully formed idea, we don’t minimize our idea. That’s an interesting quandary there. It is saying, “I think there’s something here we can explore about X.” Sometimes you ask specific people in the room their thoughts on that. You’re not allowing the conversation to continue. You can then say, “Joe or Fred, I know this is something that you guys had looked into. What’s your thought on this?” I also believe that you should get other people involved in the conversation. It does slow the tempo down a little bit.
Slowing the conversation down so that there’s room for you to be heard. Many of us are in meetings all day long and we’re dealing with Zoom fatigue. There are many people who are scheduling meetings after meetings. How can we do better meetings and maybe not have to do so many of them?
It’s about bounding them. You have a very clear goal of what the goal of the meeting is and what the outcomes you’re looking for. If it takes five minutes, end it in five minutes. To have meetings, make sure everybody is enrolled in the agenda and the outcome. Make sure that everybody that needs and wants to have a voice is heard. When you’re done, be done. There are so many meetings. Think about the meetings in your calendar. This is more of time management, “Do I need to be there? Is there someone that can be there instead of me?” If you’re setting up meetings, “Does this need to be an hour?” The best practice is, “These are going to be fifteen-minute meetings. This is the agenda.”
How you can help with that is to be concise. There’s so much noise in people’s brains all day. If you want to cut through the clutter, the best way to do that is to be simple, clear to the point, and make sure you also have an expectation, “What is the goal of this communication? I want you to know XYZ. Would you be able to get back to me your thoughts by Thursday?” Done. We got to respect the noise in everybody’s head and cut through it. Don’t assume that they know what to do with the information we give them.
That’s a good point. Making sure that you follow through and figure out what they want to do. That one was a hard one for me to learn back in the day. I would have these great ideas. I hoped somebody would pick up on them. I didn’t realize I had to ask. I still got a few wounds from that one when times where I was not the world’s best boss because I didn’t understand that.
I call it completing the sentence. Make sure you complete the sentence so that everybody knows what the expectations are and by when.
Let’s say that you are not running the meeting. You’re a member of the meeting. Let’s talk a little bit about managing up. How can you help your managers be better managers or communicators?
Let’s use a sales meeting as an example. Your boss has to go in there every week and provide an update. That update has to be major deals, timeframes, obstacles and any challenges for that. To have that information available for your boss, if you use a system like Salesforce. The Salesforce is updated to come to the meeting with your numbers, clear and ready. It doesn’t have to be sales. Whatever your boss’ weekly accountability that they have to provide, are you giving them clear data that they have to get from multiple people? Don’t make them chase you down. Don’t make them ask for updates. Make sure that you’re providing the tools. If you start doing that, it’s amazing how much more you’re going to get listened to. It’s amazing how much more is going to show up for you because they’re going to appreciate that you made their job easier.
It’s putting yourself in the shoes of your listeners. How do you think about dealing with the competition mindset or the scarcity mindset? If you’re strong and competent and good at what you do, what about the people who are threatened by you?
Let’s give that some context. What context would be interesting for you in that?
Let’s say you’ve got a colleague who cuts you off and who does everything they can to minimize whatever you’ve said.
I know that one quite well. What I’ve always done is I’d say, “I’m excited to hear what you have to say. When I’m done and we’ve had a chance to hear some comments on it, I look forward to hearing what you have to say.” My friends joke around that I put my hand up a lot like I’m a cyclist in traffic. Some women believe in putting their hands up. It’s saying, “Wait a minute,” and I just keep talking. The biggest thing is to keep going and you can acknowledge them in some way like, “I love your enthusiasm. I can’t wait to hear your idea when I finish mine.” You have to do that. You can’t let them talk over you. You have to own your ground. I know it’s hard especially for introverts and certain cultures. Unfortunately, especially in tech which I know a lot of your audience is in, you have to make sure to own your voice in that room.
When somebody dismisses you or diminishes you during a meeting, you don’t stop them right there at the meeting. How do you suggest handling it when someone has depositioned you and diminished you after you have spoken?
It’s very situational. It depends on the person. If I have a boss that is very aware of those types of conversations, I trust they will address that. I have addressed it with the boss before. I’ll give an example. I had somebody cut me in off and talk over me like I didn’t exist. I don’t think it was a woman issue. He would have done that to anybody. I knew he was a good guy and I knew he cared. I pulled my boss aside later and I said, “I get it. That’s who he is. You guys have all accepted that because he’s a top performer, but you’ve just validated bad behavior. You’re saying that at that moment, I didn’t matter when you allowed that to happen.”
He got it. He turned out to be one of the best champions that I’ve ever had as a boss. I also knew that he was someone that was open to that conversation. I was not going to let it go because that was unacceptable to me. I typically would not take it to my peer. I would make sure of that in the next meeting, and I might speak up after that in the meeting. I’m a little more fearless than the average person. I will accept the consequences of speaking up for myself. I would always say, “Thank you for those additional thoughts but I like to add to that.” If it was appropriate, I would have the last words.
What if it’s another woman who’s threatened by you and undermining you?To enroll people in an idea is to let their voices be heard and not make them feel wrong for having different choices or thoughts. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity mindset, “There’s only room for one.” It depends on the person. If I felt like there was a chance there, I would invite them out to lunch and say, “I’d love us to find ways to work together and to support each other in the organization,” and see what they say. If I feel like there’s a chance or if I can tell that they’re only out for themselves, I wouldn’t treat them any differently than any other male colleague. I would make sure that I have my ducks in a row and my facts and data when I speak up. I would make sure that if my ideas were challenged, I would tactfully defend them afterwards.
Let’s go back to the whole idea of meetings and enrolling people in an idea. Can you expand on that?
Often when we have ideas, they might be challenging the status quo and people can be defensive. I noticed a lot of my clients have a habit of making people wrong before they present their idea. My favorite word is “and” instead of “but” or “or.” To think about enrolling people in ideas, I would state the goal, “What I heard was our common goal is to accomplish XYZ and this is on the path we’re on. I think an additional way to do that is XYZ.” Especially if I’m leading it, I would love to be open to discussions. Let people feel that, first off, you’re not saying what they did is wrong. You’re valuing their input and you make it an interactive conversation.
One of the mistakes that leaders make is they walk in there with the idea that they are going to execute and it doesn’t matter what other people’s thoughts. By allowing them to have input to the conversation, first, you might learn something. Second, people want to feel part of the process and it isn’t that hard. I know we’re all crunched on time and so it’d be easier to say, “This is how we’re doing things,” but to enroll people in an idea is to let their voices be heard and not make them wrong for having different choices or different thoughts than we do.
I certainly remember in my opera days directing and having to learn to let the singers do something their way. My way was still right but I could let it go and have it be another way. It didn’t matter but I would still think my way was right but it was more important for them to do it their way. It was a challenge learning as a leader to do that.
One of the biggest challenges people have with their leaders is not feeling like they’re heard. The number one reason people normally leave is because of their boss. It’s giving them a chance where you might have the goal or the outcome that you believe is the right way or it could be the company mandate. It’s to say, “This is one of the challenges we have for the quarter. How would you guys see doing it? The company is thinking about this approach. What are your thoughts on that?” It’s including them in the dialogue versus going in there and saying, “From now on, we’re doing it this way.”
Can you tell us a little bit about having been a pioneer yourself and rising to the top, what was it that made you go into coaching?
From the outside looking in, I’ve had a great career. From the inside looking out, it was harder than it needed to be. I always know even at a young age that the next phase of my career was in service. It took a while for it to formulate into what coaching was. For me, there were many times that my communication was probably too abrupt. I made people wrong before I made them right. Someone would present ideas and I didn’t realize how much I minimize their work because I was so excited about sharing my idea on top of theirs.
I didn’t have anybody to help me understand my strengths along the way. I didn’t have a thinking partner. Sometimes in leadership, you have to be together and you can’t show that vulnerability. I want to be that person for others that I wish I had had on my journey. That thinking partner, that champion, that challenger helps them find their blind spots and biases, and helps them maximize their gifts and maximize the gifts of all the people around them. I’m only trying to be what I wish I had.
We pass on what we’ve learned or what we wish we had learned. Alison Arnoff, it’s been such a delight to have you here on the show. Can you go through The Four Stages of Confident Communication again?
The first is the mindset. At a high level, it’s a belief that what you deserve to say deserves to be heard and is valued because you’ve been invited. It’s preparation, which isn’t just the material. It’s understanding the impact, the audience, and the outcomes that you want. It’s pre-enrolling people in it. Its execution, being concise, listening and modeling the behavior that you want there. It’s making sure that you are being the positive role model for others that you’re asking for yourself. The fourth is growth because we have the experience to do this. I’ll share with people how I debrief myself because I used to not be very kind to myself. I found a way to debrief. The first thing is I asked myself three questions after everything. I’ll probably do it after this. The first thing is, what did I like about what I did today? The second is, what did I learn from today? The third is, what would I like to work on? It’s so much kinder than, “What did I do wrong?”
It’s too easy to go to, “What did I do wrong?”
From the growth standpoint, that’s what I recommend. Ask yourself those three questions and also know that in most cases, we’re not one and done. We are going to get more opportunities to present ideas and run meetings. Go through continuous learning and be kind to yourself in the process.
Alison Arnoff, how can we find out more about you?
If you’re interested, the number one thing that people can do to get in their own way is to go to IDare2BeMore.com. You’ll get a download that will tell you that. If you stay on the mailing list, you’ll even get more information about confident communications. You’ll get some examples of some clients and some of the shifts that they had to make. One is for mindset and two is for the skillset. They can learn about getting out in their own way.
Thank you so much for having been a guest on the show. For you, dear readers, we are delighted to have you here. Let me remind you that if you are curious about how your presentation skills are going, whether they’re helping you or not, you can take our free four-minute quiz at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where you are strong in your presentation skills and where perhaps a little support could get you better results and the recognition you deserve. Alison Arnoff, thank you so much for having joined us.
Thank you for having me. I enjoyed our time together.
- Alison Arnoff
- Alison Arnoff – LinkedIn
- www.IDare2BeSeen.com – Facebook group
About Alison Arnoff
A former Division 1 swimmer and retired triathlete with a 30-year record of success helping giants like Intel and EMC plus seven startups resulting in six exits, Alison empowers Executives, Leaders, and Aspiring Leaders to “Dare 2 Be” Peak Performers.
Always a trailblazer, Alison received her Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering at a time when women with those degrees were rare. She started her career as an engineer before moving to sales, marketing, management, and leadership.
Competitive swimming at an elite level taught Alison that real growth happens by pushing outside your comfort zone; a principle she applied throughout her career and now with her clients. Supporting individuals to achieve their Personal Best is simply what she does best.
During her corporate career, Alison mastered the challenge of customer adoption of emerging technologies, creating product roadmaps, building and closing large complex 7-figure deals, and leading effective teams. The core principles underneath her success and the success of her teams were confident and effective communication and empathetic leadership.
Alison has been an analyst for a Venture Capital firm doing her best shark tank impression as well as consulting tech companies in their sales and marketing strategy. Coach training and credentials include Certified Coach through ICF (International Coaching Federation), Co-Active Training Institute, Breakthrough Coaching, Positive intelligence, and WBECS.
Alison is a facilitator for the World Business and Executive Coaching Summit, an Advisory Board member of several tech companies, and advises several startup accelerators.
Dream Interview: Marie Curie