A training manager in a large insurance company shared this story with me: "My assistant helped me prepare for a presentation to a senior vice president who is an internal customer. She wanted to come in to the meeting with me, which I said was fine. But throughout my presentation, she kept interrupting to explain, 'I prepared the slideshow,' or `Let me explain this cost estimate I prepared,' or `I think maybe you should let me answer this question.'" She continued, "After the meeting, I was getting ready to tell her how inappropriate her conduct had been, but she beat me to the punch. She said, 'Listen, if I'm going to do all the work for a presentation like that, I'd really prefer it if you just let me make the presentation alone. I'd really prefer if you weren't in the meeting. Next time, could I just go solo?' I was speechless. I really didn't know what I was supposed to say."
What was she supposed to say? Whenever your Millennials have to -- or want to -- attend meetings or give a presentation as part of their responsibilities at work, you need to prepare them rigorously in advance. The most important thing you can do for them is clarify whether a presentation or meeting is indeed a primary opportunity for them to shine or impress people or not. Here are four other best practices for how to behave in presentations and meetings that you can teach Millennials:
1. Before attending any meeting or presentation, make sure you know what the meeting is about and whether your attendance is required, requested, or at least acceptable. Do you need to attend? Should you attend?
2. Prepare in advance. Is there any material you should review or read before the meeting? Are there any conversations you need to have before the meeting? Are there any work products you need to prepare before the meeting?
3. If you are making a presentation, prepare even more. Ask yourself exactly what value you have to offer the group. Never start working on the slideshows and handouts first. Instead, start with a script for yourself and rehearse it. And then rehearse some more. Only then, if you have time and if it will be helpful to the group, create prepared materials to accompany your words.
4. Identify exactly what your role is in the meeting. Who are you representing in that meeting? What information are you responsible for communicating? What information are you responsible for gathering? If you are not a primary actor in the meeting, often the best thing you can do is say as little as possible and practice good meeting manners. Come one minute early, and sit quietly until the meeting begins. When the meeting starts, speak only when you are asked a question directly. Pay attention, and take notes. If you are tempted to speak up, bite your tongue. Write a very quick note to yourself so you don't lose your thought. But don't stop listening. Does your point still need to be raised? Is it a point that everyone needs to hear, right here and now? If you have a question, could it be asked at a later time, offline, when everyone is not trapped in this meeting? Or is it a question that everyone needs answered here and now?
Finally, sometimes meetings are called for no good reason and are a waste of time. In those meetings, teach Millennials not to say a single word that will unnecessarily lengthen the meeting.Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an on-line training company. Bruce is the bestselling author of numerous books including The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009), from which this excerpt is taken, and It's Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website rainmakerthinking.com.