Three magical pivot phrases to arrest a drifting videoconference
Nothing reveals suboptimal meeting practices and behaviors quite like entire organizations going to videoconferencing, really quickly. People who may never have put much thought into videoconferencing are discovering its power, thanks to COVID-19. (Org-wide videoconferencing is kind of amazing, it turns out!) But the meeting tendencies that most of us are quietly resigned to in the traditional setting can seem like fresh hell when taken to the screen.
Before becoming a COO, I was a professional strategic-planning facilitator, among other things. I was a stickler for time discipline during planning sessions, so I learned tricks for how to run a tight meeting. Suddenly, now that I’m spending my days in videoconference, some of those tricks are finding fresh use. There are a handful of key pivot phrases that are almost magical for arresting a meeting that’s drifting off into Randomville:
- “That topic seems to warrant more time and focused attention…” The genius of this simple pivot phrase is that it gives the person who is causing the conversation drift a compliment, validates their desire to be heard, and escalates the deferred topic. As the precursor to the suggestion that the topic be taken offline, everybody wins: the concerned conversation drifter, everyone in the meeting, and the organization. Who can use it: Literally anyone in the videoconference. It’s nice if the person running the meeting uses it, sure. But it’s not theirs alone. When to use it: As soon as or only shortly after the conversation drifter has made their point — give them space to be heard — but definitely before everyone else engages in the topic.
- “For the sake of keeping to schedule so we can respect everyone’s time…” The brilliance of this phrase is that sets up the redirect as what’s good for the group. No one really wants to force everyone else to be late or, worse, to be seen as selfish. So even if the conversation drifter would prefer to stay on their drifted topic, this one calls on their innate desire to be considerate. Who can use it: This one typically lands best when it comes from the designated meeting leader or senior-most person on the videoconference. When to use it: Once the conversation drift has taken full hold and the rest of the agenda is at risk.
- “Who might you suggest is the most optimal group (or when might you suggest is the optimal time) to have this conversation?” This phrase and its variations invite the drifter to pause and, as the old phrase goes, take it to committee. Chances are, if the right group is on the videoconference, and it’s the timing is right, then the group would want to have the conversation right now — it only seems like a drift because one or both of those conditions are not satisfied. Who can use it: This is easily utilized by the meeting owner, but it’s available to any participant who can deliver it respectfully and with a genuine warm smile. When to use it: Before others in the videoconference start to really join the topic.
I know these phrases can seem a bit like no-brainers. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky few folks in business who work only with people who run tight, disciplined videoconferences. If so, you’re lucky. And these techniques are definitely in use — listen for them!
But if you’re like the most of us, working with groups in which there is always room for improvement, try these pivot phrases and watch them make a signficant difference in your next videoconf experience.