By Wilma Bedford
When it comes to meetings, whether online or face-to-face, some of us need advice on how to speak more often – and some of us need advice on when to tone it down a bit.
The best meetings have plenty of concise, pithy observations, with everyone contributing and everyone listening. If you have too many thoughtful, silent introverts or chatty extroverts it can all become unproductive.
Speaking up in meetings is a crucial way of raising your profile in your company and get recognition for your work – if you do it right. The following are some ideas on how to improve your contributions in meetings, whichever side of the personality divide you’re on.
– Be prepared
If you’re an introvert, you probably like to feel prepared, so deciding what to say in advance can work in your favour. It can also help you to make a contribution early in the meeting so that people will turn and direct their comments to you, ensuring you don’t head back to the sidelines. Say something in the first ten minutes if you can, even if it is just to ask a question or agree with someone. Psychologically this will stop your self-doubt creeping in.
“Preparing your thoughts ahead of time can also help to give you a push to be one of the first people to speak up, which is probably not your normal style. In general, it’s best to advance your ideas early,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Read the agenda and prepare your thoughts before you go to the meeting. This will give you more confidence about what you want to say and you will be much more likely to speak up. This is especially useful if you like time to consider your response rather than having to think on your feet.
- Practise what you want to say – and be concise
Practise with the help of a colleague to see what response you get, or stand in front of the mirror.
An under-utilised skill in meetings is “getting to the point”. So when you prepare, take the opportunity to practice highlighting your key points without losing them in unnecessary detail. Your contributions will be more memorable if they are more concise.
“Is your message potent and concise enough to fit into 140 characters or less? If not, you may be rambling on. Trim and enhance,”says the founder of career consulting firm Push Consulting Group.
- Don’t wait for someone else to speak up
Part of feeling shy about speaking up is imagining that no one wants to hear what you have to say. So, it’s worth remembering that other people may be feeling exactly the same way, having the same thoughts and waiting desperately for someone to put them into words.
“Out there in the vast universe there is probably another human being, just like you, who is hoping someone might say or do the very thing that you want to say or do. The world will never move forward if we are all politely waiting for someone else to articulate our thoughts.”
- Listen to what others say
A lot of people talk rubbish at meetings. Just listen to what they say. Some people talk for the sake of talking, don’t listen to others and frankly spout a fair amount of nonsense. You may be setting the bar a lot higher than it actually is and expecting much more from yourself than is necessary.
- Learn from others who do it well
Identify someone who communicates well in meetings. Listen to the tonality and volume of their voice and at what speed they are talking. What is their body language and eye contact like? Notice the response it gets from others. Pick some elements from what they do well and try to use them yourself.
- Be aware of your body language
Even if you’re not contributing to the meeting, be aware of your body language. That nervous, hunched-up body language you adopt may appear defensive or disinterested.
You should try and have an open stance that will give the impression of confidence. Lean forward, smile and make eye contact. Imagine an invisible string running from the top of your head to the ceiling, pulling you up. Send signals of competency and warmth by relaxing your shoulders and pulling them down your back. Looking at ease creates a positive perception in the eyes of people you’re trying to influence.
- Ask questions
You need to get used to hearing your own voice at meetings. The easiest way to do this is to ask questions. Ask someone to clarify or expand on a point.
- Depersonalise your ideas
Before putting yourself out there with a controversial idea but which is something you believe in, depersonalise a statement. It’s all about the words you use. For example, instead of “I think … ” try one of the following:
“Has anyone thought about….”
”Some people might say … ”
”Can we revisit … ”
”Did anyone mention … ”
”Should we just take a moment to challenge our assumption that … ”
”Maybe we should also consider .. ”
- Get your mindset right
Executive presence is about more than your visual look and body language. Fundamentally, it’s about your mentality.
Avoid apologetic language like “I’m sorry, I may be completely off base here”. Tentative language may be appropriate during a brainstorming session, for example, but not when you’re trying to be perceived as decisive and an expert. Be mindful of your inflection, just as you would in person — and not ending sentences as if you were asking a question — and trailing off at the end of your sentences.
Because of the ongoing global pandemic, even top performers wonder how to capture ever-elusive executive presence in virtual meetings as well.
The ability to speak confidently during video meetings is essential for professionals working remotely during the pandemic, says career coach Melody Wilding.
However, charismatic displays of showmanship aren’t introverts’ style. And it can be hard for them to get their voice heard over more outgoing colleagues. Having a more attuned nervous system means they’re monitoring every minor movement and reaction, which can lead to getting overwhelmed, distraction, and freezing up when it’s finally time to share an opinion. The increased pressure to perform is enough to send them spiralling into self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
Nevertheless, there are many ways to elevate your executive presence in a virtual meeting. This stems from your appearance on camera, so make sure to position yourself properly, maintain eye contact and assume a good posture, use natural lighting, and avoid virtual backgrounds.
Speak with a clear, strong voice, smile at the camera and not at your colleagues on the screen, and mute any notifications.
You need to speak slightly faster than you would while in person. See hold people’s attention.
Build that confidence
While many of these suggestions may seem simple, taken together, they add up to create a perception of competence, trust, and credibility.
Confidence comes with experience, so the more you contribute the easier it becomes. You don’t have to be the most talkative person in the room to see yourself as a success. You just want to leave each meeting knowing you contributed fully.
Voice your thoughts. Share your ideas. You deserve your seat around that meeting table. It’s time to show them why.
9 confidence hacks to help you speak up in meetings
DJYArwood. November 2017.
The do’s and don’ts of speaking in meetings
9 techniques to help you appear more confident during virtual meetings
Melody Wilding. 13 Jan. 2021