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How to Manage the Meeting Monopolizer

Why is it that the least important person in a presentation can hijack the entire meeting? You have been in these sessions: You are in full presentation mode and then that person starts the "challenging question" interrogation. It can sound like this --
  • "Don't you think that your approach costs too much for a company our size?"
  • "How do you expect to integrate with our proprietary system if you have never worked with it before?"
  • "What real and direct background do you have working in our industry?"
You've heard your own examples, I'm sure. It often comes in the form of a challenging question, before you have had a chance to complete your presentation and it could de-rail the entire conversation. If you handle it the wrong way you can burn through precious minutes in your allotted time, look defensive and weakened in the presentation, or get trapped into elevating a trivial point into a major issue.

Here are a few strategies to stop the detour and get your meeting back on track:

1. Defer - The easiest one is to defer answering the challenge until the end of the presentation by saying, "That's a good question, I believe we address some of what you are asking in the balance of this presentation. I'll make certain to circle back with you at the end of the presentation to make certain we address anything left unanswered."
2. Isolate - If you have a persistent provocateur, I encourage a different approach. Isolate this person and this issue by saying, "This seems like this issue is big enough for its own conversation. I want to honor your concerns and provide a more detailed answer than our time allows today. Let's agree to set a meeting for you and any one else who is interested from this group and I'll make certain we have a thorough discussion of that point."
3. Recruit - Look to your executive sponsor for the meeting and say out loud, "This seems like an issue that needs addressing but is outside of the scope of this meeting's purpose. If it is alright, I would like to table this issue for this meeting and return to it another time." You are looking to your sponsor to confirm a shared understanding of the meeting's purpose and support in closing down this particular discussion thread for the time being.

Most of the time, these approaches will be enough to close out the issue temporarily. Often times, that same person will be unwilling to then meet afterward. That's okay. Send out an email to the group who was in the meeting that says, "Please find attached an answer to John's question from our meeting. We are working to schedule a follow-up meeting if necessary and will circulate notes from that meeting if appropriate."

The monopolizer's behavior is not unique to your meeting. He or she acts like this during internal meetings as well. You can tell because as they interrupt your presentation you can see the eye rolls, the setting down of pencils, or the focused doodling of the rest of the people in the room.

By managing the monopolizer, you not only keep the meeting on track, you also can win some new supporters and friends in the meeting.

To share more tips on how to avoid having your meeting hijacked, leave a note in the comments or join The High Performance Sales Network on LinkedIn.

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Flickr photo courtesy pat00139/CC 2.0