So you’ve been appointed to The Committee (or board, or working group…). This group has a reputation for being tough – hard on new members, tricky to get to know and work with. You’re justifiably anxious to make a good first impression and fit in with this group as quickly as possible. How do you go about doing that?
In this Q&A, we’ll look at strategic ways of fitting in and create a good impression when you are The New Person on any kind of committee, working group, or board.
(If the embedded video below is being fussy, click here to watch directly on YouTube. You can also scroll down for the full transcript!)
I’d love to hear your take on this tricky situation – how do you manage those first impressions when joining a new committee or other working group? Click here to share your secrets in the video comments section (and while you’re at it, be sure to like the video, subscribe to the channel, and share it with others!)
Scenario: you’re the new person on That Committee. You don’t know anybody and have no clue what the pecking order is, but you know that first impressions are of utmost importance with this group. This next decision could make or break you: WHAT CHAIR DO YOU SIT IN?
Hello my friends, for today’s communication Q&A we’ve got a question that might give some of you heart palpitations – here it is:
I’m a new member on a board of directors for a not-for-profit. Most of the other directors have either been on this board or have been part of the community for some time. I’m new to both this position and this region. I’ve heard these people are very insular and have been warned they can be difficult to get along with. What can I do to make a good impression in my first few meetings with this group?
Any insight is welcome,
It’s always tough being the new kid on the block, isn’t it Alan? Especially when that block (or Board of Directors) has a reputation for being insular and cliquish.
When dealing with this, you’re going to want to spend the first couple of meeting worrying less about showing how smart and capable you are and focusing more on connecting with the group and demonstrating that you understand and respect them. In rhetorical terms, you need to build up your Ethos – your reputation and character within the group.
There are several ways to do this. First, figure out what their basic points of etiquette are – contact the person coordinating the next meeting (it might be one of the board members’ executive assistants, or someone comparable), and ask them about the sort of business attire that’s expected, what sort of language (formal, informal, etc) tends to be used at the meetings, and so on. Observing the group’s point of etiquette, such as clothes, who sits where, etc., is a very easy and often overlooked shortcut to endearing yourself to a potentially unfriendly group of people. Make an effort to behave according to the group’s norms and meet their expectations about who you are and what you should do. There will be time to differentiate your ideas and contributions later – at this stage of the game, it’s more about strategically fitting in.
I also recommend doing some intel gathering about the people who are currently sitting on the board. How long has each one of them served on the board? What are their positions/jobs within the community in general? Are any of them particularly influential within the group? What major challenges or issues are these people facing in their day to day work? These are all questions that the person organizing the meeting will likely be able to answer, or that you could learn through information sources such as past meeting minutes and general community news or gossip.
The point here is to learn as much as you can about their context and worldview so that you can refer to it and ask well-informed questions every now and then, which lets you demonstrate that you understand and care about this board’s context and history.
Finally, at the meeting itself, be sure to ask more questions than you answer, and show a greater interest in hearing other people’s ideas than sharing your own. People tend to like people who show an interest in them and who give them the chance to talk about themselves and their thoughts and ideas.
So ask people about their history with the group, within this community, their opinions on current issues affecting the community, and so on. Demonstrate genuine interest in these people – don’t wait for them to ask you about who you are, ask the other board members questions about themselves first. This will help you give off the impression that you are friendly, open, and interested in learning about the people around you; this in turn will help you seem more likeable and help you give a better first impression.
And remember, Alan, if you are ever in doubt about a point of etiquette, a way of doing something, or a fact or figure relevant to the community, don’t be afraid to ask. You might find that this insular board will be keen to show you how “things are around here” and welcome you more readily than you expected.
That’s it for this question, Alan – now go and make some friends with this board – I have faith in you!
And now it’s time for a question for you, my own community – have you ever had to make a good first impression on a group of people that intimidated you? If so, how did you manage to endear yourself to them? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to like this video, subscribe to this channel, and click the notification bell so you don’t miss another episode. And as always, be sure to visit laurensergy.com and sign up in the pop-up to receive loads of great resources and updates on all things public speaking and communication.
Thanks for coming, and I look forward to seeing you again soon!