Finding yourself stuck in a highly technical meeting, discussing information that is not related to your expertise, is always a tricky situation. Unfortunately, these situations are inevitable, so do not let them bring down your confidence, and instead go in with a strategy to ensure the meeting goal is reached.
The key to surviving these highly technical meetings boils down to strong communication. There are two main types of communication that you need to focus on: (1) external communication with the people you are meeting with and (2) internal communication with attendees from your organization.
Next time you go into a highly technical meeting, try these communication strategies:
Admit that you’re not an expert [External Communication]
Before the meeting starts, make sure your audience knows your level of expertise so they can adapt accordingly.
It is not a bad thing to say “I’m new to this sector of the business” or “I haven’t worked with this technology before.” Your audience wants you to understand their message, so they will be happy to help break down the information for you.
Of course, it can be intimidating to admit that you are not understanding something in a meeting, but this helps break down the barriers and formal atmosphere meetings tend to have. Breaking away from the formality also allows all participants to be more open with their communication — and open communication results in a stronger meeting outcome.
Pull in the right people and delegate [Internal Communication]
When I have been new to a team and everything seems highly technical, I’ve been told to “just write down what I don’t understand and follow up later.” Taking notes in a highly technical meeting is something that I am still working to perfect, because when you don’t understand the jargon, it is really hard to write down anything meaningful.
This is why sometimes it’s better to just stick to your domain and pull in others to fill in the gaps.
When you pull in these people, make sure they understand their role for attending the meeting. If you want them to be able to step in during certain parts of the meeting, make sure they are prepared to do that.
Set up a pre-meeting prep call or send them an agenda with key topics they should be ready to speak to. If you can’t pull in backup support from the technical experts, work with them before the meeting to prepare a list of questions. This way, you can make sure to have an effective meeting, even with a limited understanding of the topic.
Make sure someone on your team understood the information before ending the meeting [Internal Communication]
Pulling in the right people is great, but sometimes even those people don’t understand everything.
I’ve been in discussions where I did not understand what was said and thought, “I’ll just follow up with my colleague after.” Then, when we were debriefing, we realized that neither of us understood a key component of the discussion. We both thought the other understood, so neither of us asked for clarification.
When the discussion is more technical than your level of understanding, it can be easy to assume that everyone else in the room is following along, but it’s important to work as a team with your colleagues to ensure someone is capturing all of the information to ensure that each group leaves with the information they came to get.
Now, when I realize I am not fully understanding the content being discussed, I let my teammates know through a smaller group Slack thread. It gets more challenging in a face-to-face meeting, so you either have to plan for some visual cues or interject and say, “I did not fully grasp that point, but [insert colleague] do you have any questions on that topic before we move on?”
Like the point about external communication and admitting you’re not an expert, it is important to be transparent with your team on your level of expertise and understanding.
Surviving a technical meeting is a skill that will be refined over your entire career. Remember that the key is to communicate internally with your teammates and externally with the people you are meeting with to ensure the meeting is a success. When you are open about your level of expertise, pull in the right people, and make sure someone in the room is capturing all of the information, you can master the art of surviving a highly technical meeting!