“I got invited to present at the Strategy Roadshow,” Sharon said as soon as I walked into her office last week. She was grinning. “I will be traveling with the executive team and we will be visiting 5 offices and attending 4 customer events.”
What? Wasn’t it just a few months ago that we were dealing with the question about how to get her more visibility? How did all this happen?
Sharon is the VP of marketing at an industrial products company in Chicago. She is intense and committed – she is a former professional cellist and she brings the skill of hard work and discipline from her music to her job now.
Sharon is known for being excellent at her work – a very good and well-rounded marketer who is thoughtful and adds insight. Her team loves working with her and she instills loyalty and drive.
But what we learned from her 360-feedback is that if Sharon wants to move up, she has to get more visible. The senior executives know she does great work, and they know her personally one-on-one. But they don’t see her in the key meetings. They don’t see her present to them or others. They have not built the group rapport with her that gives them the confidence that she can handle a bigger role, a place at the leadership table.
Visibility at work is a topic that a lot of people struggle with. One way to get visible at work is to get to the right meetings and be awesome in those meetings. Here’s how: 1) Get invited; 2) Prepare; 3) Exude confidence.
1) Get invited
The backbone of corporate life is meetings. There is often an elaborate – albeit unpublished – choreography of meetings: the cadence of them, who sits where, who attends, whether or not decisions get made. Some meetings are working bodies, some are decision-making bodies, and some are “management theater” – just for show. Like it or not, being in the right meetings matter.
To get into the meetings, you often have to be invited. Sometimes that’s easy, especially if you’ve put the time and effort into adding value and building relationships. For Sharon it simply meant asking the CEO’s Chief of Staff if he would add her to the quarterly strategy review – he did that easily. She also asked the SVP of Product if she could attend his quarterly business review. Since the head of sales saw her there he pulled her into his monthly sales meeting.
Yes, it’s a lot of meetings. And you can’t go to everything, you have to pick and choose. But we are talking about getting you on the radar, and the way you do that is to get invited to key meetings.
2) Prepare for meetings
Now that you’re at the meeting, what should you say? Too many people make the mistake of sitting there quietly at meetings they just got invited to. They feel like they are lucky to have been invited and they want to make sure not to over-step. That’s a bad strategy.
Instead prepare. Here’s a helpful model: reactive and proactive. Reactive is to think through what questions will come your way and prepare a good answer. Proactive is to picture how the conversation might go. Think of some relevant points you can make on some topics, and get ready to chime in, even if you are not asked directly.
In the strategy meeting, Sharon knew that questions about specific regional strategies would get directed to her boss or to her, and she boned up on possible questions and her answers. She also studied the market to be able to make a few specific points proactively about what the competition was doing. It took her time to prepare this, but she was very validated when she was able to confidently speak up when those topics came up.
3) Exude confidence
As with everything, it’s not just the what, it’s the how. To earn the right to be visible and be “at the table” you have to exude confidence and executive presence. The preparation should help you be more confident. And, visualizing the way you want to come across is also very helpful.
Sharon had learned – painfully – that she had a nervous laugh that came out when, you know, she was nervous. This little tic did not inspire confidence. She visualized herself “saying her lines” without the laugh, and she visualized her voice sounding confident and not “breathy.” She also knew that when she was nervous she tended to look down at the table and not make eye contact with others, so in the meeting she focused on that eye contact.
The result of this focus was a Sharon who came across as very confident. The result of that was an invitation to the Strategy Roadshow where she would present and, just as importantly, mingle with the executives who would get used to seeing her in the bigger conversation, not just her marketing box.
Visibility often isn’t complicated. It’s just about finding productive ways to get invited to the table and excel once you get there. How have you increased your visibility at work?