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Is a Seat at the Table Enough?

I often hear my association’s meeting professional members say that they would like a “seat at the table,” especially when it relates to organizational strategy. In many cases, meeting professionals are not valued or respected enough within their companies, or at least not to the point of getting that proverbial seat. Our industry can do better.

But where to start? Just desiring a seat at the table could be tantamount to a professional sports team that aspires to making the playoffs instead of winning a championship. While most people may not aim for their company’s or department’s top job, having higher expectations of oneself could be a start.

What’s more, meeting professionals need to think about what they want to accomplish by working with leadership. It’s one thing to have a seat at the table; it’s another to bring and deliver value once there, as well as to contribute on a regular basis between meetings.

Following are some provocative questions when considering how to get that coveted seat, and what to do once there:

Getting there…
• Are you waiting for an invitation or making a business case for why you, your skills, or your perspectives are critical to being at the table?
• How well do you know the others at the table and what have you done to develop relationships with them? How well do they know you?
• What behaviors do you exhibit—good or bad—that may help or prevent you from being considered? How self-aware are you about your internal brand?
• Do you dress the part by wearing attire similar to those who are already in those positions?

Once there…
• Come prepared to contribute something of value. Nothing is worse than earning that seat and contributing nothing.  Find out what you bring that is unique to the group.
• Find your moment. Be respectful of the others at the table by showing interest and getting the lay of the land, but don’t wait too long to make your mark.
• If the opportunity doesn’t immediately present itself, ask a question, seek clarification on a point—anything to show the others you are engaged and contributing.
• Raise your hand. If there is an opportunity to take on a side project or join a team, don’t hold back. You may only get one opportunity.

On an ongoing basis…
Follow up with others after the meeting.
• Ask what you might be able to do to help them achieve their goals.
• Ask questions you might have been reluctant to ask during the meeting.
• Make sure you read any follow up material and act on the action items you promised to take on.
• Stay visible and let others know about your new role.

Several years ago, there was a meeting of my peers in my organization’s conference room. My boss inquired why I was not in that meeting. I answered that I was on an important deadline. His response? The project can wait a day. You are missing an opportunity to rub elbows with your peers and contribute to the good of the profession. It’s always better to be on the inside looking out than on the outside looking in.

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