Meeting, interrupted: Three keys to regaining control after someone hijacks your meeting

At a recent corporate leadership event for high-potential women, one attendee raised her hand and asked the speaker, “How do you regain control when someone hijacks your meeting?”

“Tough question,” I thought to myself, pivoting in my chair to give the speaker, executive coach Anita Stadler Ph.D., my full attention as I awaited her answer.

We’ve all experienced a hijacked meeting: you’re standing at the front of the room, speaking with conviction, commanding attention and knocking ‘em dead. Everything’s going according to plan when suddenly someone interjects, interrupting you mid-presentation – or even mid-sentence.

In the blink of an eye your meeting’s been hijacked, and you’ve lost control. Even worse, you’re now standing alone in front of the room while everyone’s attention has been diverted elsewhere.

“The challenge,” explained Dr. Stadler that day, “is not knowing what to do with yourself when the attention of everyone in the room is no longer on you.”

So what does an executive coach and leadership development expert recommend? Here are Stadler’s three keys to regaining control after someone hijacks your meeting:

1. Be conversational, not confrontational

Whatever you do, don’t try to confront or embarrass the individual who interrupted you.

“When you’re presenting,” Stadler warns, “there’s an unwritten rule that you have power. If it appears that you’re taking advantage of that power by embarrassing someone, it will turn your audience against you.”

In order to regain control and bring your audience along with you, you’ll need to be conversational, not confrontational. Here’s how:

2. Give the group a choice

“At some point, that person is going to take a breath,” says Stadler. When they do, this is your moment, and Stadler recommends that you seize it to enlist the entire group or the senior leader present in making a decision on how to proceed. “Say something like, ‘It looks like this has sparked an important conversation’ and then give them a choice. ‘Would you like to take a few minutes right now to discuss this or do you want to me to go ahead and finish sharing the information I have for you?’ If it’s clear that the side conversation is a diversion, the group will probably request that you continue.”

If the group chooses discussion, then let them have that discussion. “Tell them you’ll step back into the conversation at the appropriate point,” Stadler advises.

Why cede control in this way? Stadler explains, “Your presentation might have sparked something really important for them. Perhaps you’re presenting to them because they have a wider view of what is going on. They may even have key pieces of information that have bearing on what you’re talking about. It might be a good thing for the organization to have that discussion.”

3. Don’t stay standing

What you do in a meeting is as important as what you say, so mind your body language. “If they want to have a conversation,” Stadler counsels, “sit down, because it doesn’t look good if you’re standing up there when it is clear your meeting has been hijacked.”

So take a seat up front or stand to the side while the group deliberates. As soon as they resolve the issue, step to the front again and resume control. If you’re not sure what to say, Stadler suggests referencing the value of the conversation that your presentation has sparked.

The Takeaway

With these three keys you can deftly handle a hijacking, sidestep confrontation, let the group choose how to proceed and ultimately regain control of your meeting.


 

Connect with executive coach Anita Stadler Ph.D. on LinkedIn.

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.com and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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