Always Be Prepared To Sit At The Table

"Sarah, sit at the table with us."

While working for a tech company as a consultant to a major government agency, I was embedded in the Information Security Division as their primary consultant; My client was the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of the agency. One day, I was ordered by my contract team lead to show up at an off-site leadership meeting, and take notes. I was told to bring my laptop, find a corner to sit in, and basically be invisible. All the top information security leaders from the agency were either in the room, or on the phone that day, as were a few of their administrative assistants.

The CISO arrived, looked around the table, and asked if that was everyone, so the host-site employees (Gartner) could shut the doors, and we could go into a secure "do not disturb" meeting mode. They got the folks from across the country on the phone, shut the doors, and the day-long "meeting of the minds" commenced. The way in which it commenced, however, was with the CISO looking at me and saying, "Why are you sitting over there?" I replied with a shrug and said, "I don't know, this is the first seat I saw. Would you like me to sit somewhere else?" To which the CISO replied,

"Sarah, sit at the table with us. You're my consultant, and a professional; I want to hear your ideas and input." 

Talk about being put on the spot!

The CISO then formally introduced me to the entire room, and remote callers. The only seat available was at the "head" of the table. I guess everyone left it empty assuming the CISO would want to sit there but, they were wrong. She didn't. So I sat down, opened my laptop, and started taking notes. It wasn't long (about 30 minutes) before the CISO stopped, and said,

"Let's ask the communication professional in the room."

All eyes were on me.

Fortunately, I was well-prepared for the moment, and fired off a quick response. I talked for a minute or so. The CISO replied saying the suggestions were "awesome", and asked someone at the table to make a note of what *I* was saying. I cannot even remember what it was that I said. I just remember feeling very confident at that moment, because I was knowledgeable about the subject matter. I was also kind of worried that I was not taking notes, because I had now become a part of the meeting, and my directive was to be quiet and take notes!

For the remainder of the day, I was no longer one of the invisibles. I was a respected peer and contributor. I was asked for input about all kinds of IT/InfoSec topics, not just communication. After the all-day meeting ended, they thanked me for my contributions, and each one shook my hand. I was invited to future meetings, picked up an additional client from the room, and even made a new friend!

NONE of the above would have happened if the CISO had not invited me to sit at the table. I would have been just another no-name consultant lingering in the shadows, who everyone would have ignored. Instead, I was provided with an opportunity to prove my value, so that's exactly what I did.

Moral of the story....

Always be prepared to sit at the table.

Not only did I make it a point to stay abreast of the latest developments in the field (and within the agency), but I had read the agenda ahead of time to familiarize myself with the subject matter for the day, created an outline ahead of time for taking notes, and did some research on the other leaders who would be there. All that, combined with the knowledge I already had, set me up for success this day.


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