I viewed most of my college business Professors quite skeptically, that is unless they had achieved some measure of success outside of Northeastern University. I was, however, very fortunate to have had several Professors that came to teach because their net-worth allowed them to do anything they wanted, and teaching was their choice.
Funny, if you happened to be an observer at one of their classes back in 1984, you might have thought I was a Class Valedictorian candidate. Certainly you would have noticed that for extended periods of time the Professor and I appeared to be having our own conversation, or perhaps more accurately - debate. What you wouldn’t have seen in the next class is my metamorphosis back into a slightly less than average student. In order to make that connection, you would have needed a transcript.
One of those professors, a Harvard MBA Management Consultant, taught our Organizational Behavior class. At the time, Organizational Behavior ranked just about as high as Accounting 101 on my interest scale (not very). Fortunately for me, both classes were taught by successful professionals from outside of the classroom. Was it the fact that this particular Professor had made millions of dollars as a Management Consultant for some of the top consulting firms worldwide? Or that he had written a plethora of highly acclaimed books and articles for top Publishing companies? Or perhaps that he commanded high-powered speaking fees at many of the most successful Fortune 500 companies? All of those things got my attention.
However, nothing impressed me more than the first day he came into class, looked out over the blank faces, sat on the desk, held the textbook at arms length, and calmly dropped it into the trash can. I forget exactly what he said as the book thumped to an abrupt halt – maybe because we were all looking around the room at each other wondering what was coming next. Suffice to say, it was something to the effect of "most of what I'm going to teach you is not in this textbook or any Ivy League MBA program for that matter.”
One of those gems has helped me from the beginning of my career till today; I use it every day - and you can too. Over four decades, this skill has never become obsolete, nor will it ever. I recall the Professor saying that IF you can become proficient at this skill you will both have the advantage in every business meeting you attend -and subsequently increase the value you are able to extract from all of your meetings in aggregate.
The advantages of honing this skill are vast and include:
Freedom to focus on what people say – and more importantly what they mean. Latitude to better communicate your points, and steer the meeting on-the-fly. Confidence to recall points made by individuals weeks, months and even years after meetings. Time & Space to conceptualize and present more complex positions – especially while others take notes!
The skill is to mentally record what happens in every business meeting, without taking notes, by fully listening and comprehending what each person says. Sound impossible? Here’s how you begin.
First STOP taking notes and don’t be afraid. That’s 50% of the battle. If you have a pencil and notebook in your hand you’ll use that crutch. If you don’t have the crutch available, adrenaline will kick-in and you will look, listen and comprehend everything that transpires at a much higher level of awareness, somewhat like the person who goes blind – and develops the other senses far beyond what they ever could while sighted. You’ll also enjoy meetings a great deal more (trust me on that one).
Here are two tips to help you get started:
Try and get someone else to take the “to do” or action item notes during the meeting. If that’s not possible, let everyone know at the beginning that you’ll be taking the “action items” down at the end of the meeting. If you’re like me, and have difficulty recalling the names of people you only meet once, or loose your keys, wallet or other personal items frequently, don’t worry. You have nothing to fear but fear itself.