The Art of Speaking in Meetings

The Art of Speaking in Meetings

I often get asked, how do I get my voice heard.

Everyone else talks in meetings, but I either don’t know what to say or don’t have the guts to say it.

That was me.
I did that until I was about 29.
Then I got tired of being left behind.

Whether its with clients, internally or even with your friends, being able to speak up and have your opinion heard is critical to your success. 

Otherwise you are going to get stepped on, get used and get disregarded. 

Has this already happened to you ?

You have to get your voice heard.

Here’s what my good friend SW had to say:
 
For all of us, but especially women, I believe the most important thing is to speak up –i.e the activity itself rather than the actual content of what is being said.

Speaking up requires awareness, a bit of preparation and dedication at first, but will soon feel like second nature. I started speaking up for real out of pure anger when I first became aware of how little women take of “total speaking time” in meetings, some studies have found 25% or less.

I saw bright, strong and experienced senior female colleagues quietly fade into the background during meetings – often just sitting there or falling increasingly silent as they were repeatedly interrupted by our male colleagues.

 

I decided to be different, making the following my guiding principles:

  • Set a speaking goal for your meetings: You can decide to be different too, by setting a “speaking goal” for your meetings. In the beginning, it may be something simple like “I will say what I think once and ask one question during the course of 60 minutes” whereas later on it may be “I will make the meeting summary in order to control to dos” or “I will interrupt John and Henry four times each. Small, realistic goals allow you to practice and grow more confident step by step.

 

  • Take the initiative, start speaking: At the beginning of meetings, there is often a moment of silence as the assembled group waits for someone to begin speaking. Don’t assume that there is a designated leader to pick up the gauntlet – often there isn’t. Rather, use this silence to manifest your initiative and start speaking, eg. asking what the purpose of the meeting is (very often, this isn’t clear either) or how this meeting fits into a bigger work stream.

 

  • Don’t wait for a pause, interrupt: Men interrupt each other and women all the time, rarely waiting for a pause in conversation to start speaking. For a woman, politely waiting for a pause in conversation equals speaking very little or not at all. To make yourself heard, learn how to interrupt people and leave the discomfort of doing so behind you. Like everything else, this takes practice and conscious goal-setting (see above).

 

  • Don’t apologize: Many women I’ve come across start whatever they to say with an apology of some sort – they apologize for interrupting, for not getting it quickly enough etc. DON’T apologize; there is absolutely no need, whatsoever. Apologizing is tantamount to admitting that you have less of a right to speak, which is ludicrous. 

 

  • Make sure to finish your sentence: If you interrupt others, you have to be prepared for being interrupted yourself. This is just the simple name of the game. However, being interrupted doesn’t mean that you should give up the right to say what you intended to say. Let your “interruptor” into the conversation, but then quickly resume your line of thought by saying things like “…as I was saying…”. Some people try to monopolize conversations, as an annoying part of their DNA. If you have one of these in the room, you may also want to try a stern “…X, let me finish my sentence, please…” in case he or she is trying to interrupt you.

 

  • Watch out for the male echo: Sadly enough, I have attended way too many meetings where a woman puts forward a viewpoint or idea, only to be (politely) ignored by the men around her. Moments later, a male attendee may say the same thing, but now to great acclaim or agreeing nods. Infuriating to say the least! However, this can be tackled. Firstly, make sure that you speak plainly – don’t fold your statement into lots of layers. As men in general are less linguistically refined than women, you need to be blunt in order for them to get you. Secondly, be bold and pinpoint your “echo” as a copycat, saying something like “…Martin, thank you for reiterating the idea I brought forward 5 minutes ago, but…”. 

 
Speaking up is one thing, knowing what to speak about is something else. If you know the agenda – formal and informal – it will make it easier for you to make your voice heard credibly and successfully.

As law-abiding “good girls”, women often take a formal agenda at face value, ignoring that there may be undercurrents going on that need to be taken into account. Such undercurrents – often decisions made beforehand – are best captured through conversations by the coffee machine, during lunch or by networking – which many women stay away from as they view it as a waste of time. Nothing could be more wrong.

Knowing what a meeting is really about – and what decisions have already been made – helps you prepare and avoid nasty surprises.

How do you make your voice heard in meetings?

Do you have any tips and tricks that haven’t been listed here?

Please share so that we can all benefit from your skill! Have you found speaking up to be really hard? Let me know what keeps you back, and what measures you have taken – learning from one’s own and other’s struggles is the best way forward! 

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