You feel like there are fish swimming in your stomach, your head feels fuzzy, and a nauseated wave just worked its way up from your shoes to your throat. Why? Because you just found out you have to step up to the plate and represent your boss at a meeting.
Yep, that’s a pretty nerve-wracking situation. No matter how big, small, important, or miniscule that sit-down is, there’s tremendous pressure to be polished, professional, and representative of your boss.
You might be nervous, but there’s no need to start huffing and puffing into a paper bag quite yet. This meeting is not only something you can pull off—but it’s one more thing you can add to your Ninja knowhows.
Use these key tips and a slice of professional charm to knock that meeting out of the park. Just don’t be surprised when your boss asks you to keep attending meetings in her place.
Have a Pre-Meeting Meeting
Let’s face it—you can’t actually be your boss. Just because you’re charged with the task of standing in at a meeting doesn’t mean you automatically have the superpower to know what’s on the agenda or how to address specific questions. Remember, you’re representing your boss—not impersonating her.
It’s for this very reason that you should have a conversation about the meeting before it happens.
During this talk, gather big-picture information, such as an overview of what will be covered, any action items you should take care of, questions you should ask, and if there’s any specific information you need to stroll out of there with.
If it’s a one-on-one meeting, go over what information is needed for your boss to take next steps as if she were there herself. Bring a notepad to make sure you record relevant talking points or key ideas related to critical topics.
Having proper background knowledge to act in your boss’ best interests will allow you to walk into that meeting with a little more confidence (even if your palms are sweating).
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
On a related note, you need to prepare for the meeting—beyond marking it on the calendar and chatting with your boss about the details.
Will the topic be one you’re relatively unfamiliar with? Will you comprehend more if research projects being discussed? Do you need to brush up on which team members handle what? Do you need to supply handouts or other materials? Probably, and you don’t want to start thinking about these things while you’re on the spot.
Make yourself a list so you can confirm your ducks are all in a row before walking into that conference room. You’ll likely lead the discussion, so plan your opening statement and major talking points as well. Say them aloud to build your confidence and to help plan where you expect input.
Social psychologist and Stanford professor Deborah H. Gruenfeld says this strategy works.
Practice can be very useful, and is highly recommended because in addition to building confidence, it also tends to improve quality.
Your boss may never rehearse a meeting, but the preparation will only help you in this situation. Plus, confidence and quality are sure to reflect back on your leader—which is exactly what you want.
Don’t Be Afraid to Press Pause
Say—despite your planning and rehearsing—someone looks at you and asks a question you have absolutely zero idea how to answer.
What do you do? Attempt to talk your way around the issue? Whip out a totally random (and likely incorrect) answer? Bust into your sixth-grade tap routine in an effort to create a major distraction? The answer is no to all of those, even though tap-dancing is pretty cool.
Take a deep breath instead and remind yourself that it’s totally alright to admit when you don’t know something—especially if it’s something only your boss would know. Of course, you’ll want to offer a little more than “I’m not sure.”
Demonstrate composure by reasoning out loud. For instance, you could preface your answer with a statement like,
Based on my understanding of X, I believe the answer is Y—but let me verify this and I’ll shoot over a note once I’ve gotten clarification.
Explaining that you’ll get a precise answer straight from the horse’s mouth only adds to your credibility, since others know you’ve made the extra effort to communicate accurately on behalf of your boss. Deferring the answer is far better than committing to a quick reply that isn’t correct.
There’s no denying that needing to represent your boss in a meeting is anxiety-inducing. However, remember this: your boss trusts you to handle this for her. She’s confident that you’ll represent her well, or she wouldn’t send you to the meeting in her place.
Need a little bit more of a confidence boost? Go ahead and explicitly ask your boss why she’s entrusting you with this responsibility. Chances are, her response won’t be anything but encouraging.
Take those words to hear and use them to arm yourself with confidence and professionalism in that meeting. Chances are, you’ll impress everybody (including yourself).
Have you had to represent your boss at a meeting before? What key things did you do to handle it?