Have you ever longed to do something really well, but never got off the blocks because you didn’t know how, and figured that you’d never be able to do it anyway?

I recently swallowed my pride, my fear, and the belief that I was not (and never would be) a swimmer and signed up for a private one-on-one session with an instructor at the local pool.  The result?  I swam a full 25 metre lap without stopping for the first time in my life – after only ever having that one 15 minute lesson.

Imagine how you will feel after you have triumphed over the one thing that’s getting between you and your ideal vision of the meetings you would love to lead.  Learning to lead meetings well is like learning to swim – with the right advice, it’s easier than you might think.

Here are the 7 things I learned about  improving skills quickly and setting yourself up for success.

1.       Get in the pool

Dipping your toe into the water is not enough.  With my swimming lesson, I was in the pool twenty minutes after making a call to enquire about a lesson because the timeslot happened to be open.

In meetings, you won’t be able to make inroads if you’re not currently running meetings.  If the opportunity arises for you to chair, say yes.


2.       Learn from experts who can teach

My instructor was Mark.  Mark was passionate about swimming and knew how to tell me exactly what I was doing wrong and what I was doing right.  He also, when I panicked in the first few minutes, explained how that was a completely normal survival mechanism when learning to keep your head in the water.

You want to find an adviser who is both an expert at leading meetings and has the ability to pass on their learning to you, respectfully.


3.       Work out what you can already do

The first question Mark asked me was, “What can you do?”  He gauged my level of experience so that he could start where it would be most beneficial.

You’ve already got meeting skills – get clear on what they are.  Working on what you can already do well is not what’s going to make the difference for you.


4.       Identify the key place to start

In swimming, it was my breathing technique letting me down, leaving me gasping for air after a few strokes.  Tackling other skills without first resolving my breathing technique would have been a massive waste of time.

Where is it that you’re metaphorically “gasping for air” in your meetings?  Seek out advice about how to do that one thing first.


5.       Focus on one technique at a time

In order to focus on my breathing, Mark had me using a kickboard and flippers.  This meant I could put any issues around my stroke and my strength (or lack thereof) to the side for the moment.  All feedback provided to me was targeted on getting the breathing right.  When Mark told me to kick harder as I came up for a breath, it was to make breathing easier.  When he limited me to one-armed strokes, it was to make my breathing easier.

When you identify that one thing you need to work on, stick with it until it’s comfortable.  Add too much, too early and you’ll only wind up frustrated at your lack of progress.


6.       Slower is better

Mark slowed down the rate of my strokes, telling me that slower was most definitely better in learning to get the technique right.  You need to give your brain enough time to be aware of what your body’s doing so that it can notice corrections that are needed.

It’s not a race.  It’s a learning experience.


7.       Use tools that make life easier

Mark’s final recommendation for me was to continue to use flippers in the weeks to come as I did laps on my own.  This would allow me to instil the breathing technique since moving faster through the water makes breathing easier.  Plus my legs wouldn’t tire before I was ready to finish my session.  When I felt confident with the breathing, Mark told me, I could choose to use the flippers less and less, and add more techniques.

What resources do already you have or who can you leverage while you’re honing new techniques?  Make it easy on yourself and use them.


Are you ready to get off the blocks?  Put these 7 learnings in place and you’ll be “swimming laps” in no time.