“I don’t feel heard in meetings with my team.”
“I’m hesitant to dominate things, but a handful of people always seem to get all the airtime.”
“I share my thoughts and ideas… And then someone more confident or assertive shares them as their own.”
We hear these challenges all the time. Well-facilitated meetings can be a boon for collaboration and productivity, but those are sadly a rare thing. More often, teams complain of meetings fatigue and time wasting.
Beyond having a strong facilitator who will give the right people airtime, three primary factors influence our ability to speak up (and be heard) in meetings:
Confidence: feeling sure of yourself, your abilities, and your preparedness
Content: what you say and how you frame your contributions
Presence: how you physically present yourself in the room (eye contact, volume, body language, etc.)
For each of us, the weight or importance of each of these elements will vary. Here’s a brief primer on all three.
How we feel whilst preparing to speak up in a meeting can vary as much as human beings do. That said, a few overarching points are worth remembering:
Lay the groundwork for success. It’s always advisable to prepare for meetings, but for some of us, feeling prepared is a prerequisite for speaking up at all. At a minimum, ask yourself what your goals are for the meeting, It’s also smart to consult your team if you’ll be speaking to their work and to ask “What are the questions I’d hate to be asked?” Build this into your prep work.
Recognize your credentials. If you have a seat at the table, you have every reason to have a voice there, too. If you’re unsure of what’s expected of you in the meeting, talk to the person who invited you about why they did so. You might even be able to take it off your calendar (many invites are sent out of politeness), but if not, you’ll have a clearer sense of your role.
Reclaim airtime from the over-talkers. There’s rarely a shortage of opinionated or loud participants in a given meeting and their contributions are no more valid or useful than yours will be. If you typically struggle to speak up, remember that most participants will be happy when you do.
What are you trying to communicate? The way we frame our ideas and contributions can easily let down the content. Here are some pointers on how to do your content justice.
Keep “limiting language” in check. Do you start your contributions with phrases like “This might sound silly, but…” or end them with “Does that make sense?” If so, you’re signaling to people that your idea doesn’t merit confidence. Instead, jump straight in with your idea, or use a more confident lead-in like “What would happen if…” or simply “Let’s…”.
Start with the main point of your question or idea. I.e., if the answer to a question is yes or no, say yes or no before giving additional detail. You can always add “Would you like more information?” but since most people tune out when there’s a lot of exposition upfront, it’s best to get to your point quickly then add a little more info as needed. You’ll grab people’s attention and only follow-up once you have it.
Consider your key points ahead of time. If attendees could remember nothing else, what are the three things you’d like them to retain? In most meetings, anything beyond a few points will be quickly forgotten. This approach will help you be concise and – bonus – be easier for you to remember, too.
Aside from having a good stance, everything you learn in a presentation-skills class will serve you well in sit-down meetings, too. With robust eye contact, confident body language, and a louder-than-usual speaking volume, people will listen to everything you say. (Here are some short-cuts to enhancing presence.)
It can be challenging to speak up and have people listen to and remember your contributions - let alone give you credit for them.
Be confident: prepare well, remember why you’re at the table, and reclaim airtime from the over-talkers.
Consider your content: what are you trying to communicate? Be concise and don’t frame your ideas by putting them down.
Own the space: think about how you physically present yourself in the room (eye contact, volume, body language, etc.)
What untapped ideas are you missing out on thanks to “meetings fatigue”? Talk to us about overhauling your meetings and coaching your leaders to success.
Ellie Hearne is a leadership-communications expert and founder of Pencil or Ink. She has worked with Apple, Google, Kate Spade, Marriott, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, Pfizer, Piaget, Spotify, Starbucks, and Twitter, among others, and has coached numerous individuals and teams. Ellie can be reached here, here, and here.