How to Get Your Voice Heard in Meetings
Finding the Best Way to Contribute and Get Noticed
Maybe it's the oversized table and the closed doors. Maybe it's the colleague who talks too much and too loudly. Or maybe you're painfully aware that your manager's sitting opposite you.
Whatever the reason, you can find yourself lost for words in meetings and filled with a sense of shame and self-consciousness as your nerves overwhelm you. On the other hand, you may have succeeded in sharing your thoughts, but have been ignored or "shot down" by bigger voices in the room.
Although it can feel like you're the only one struggling with these issues during meetings, there are undoubtedly others who feel the same – and just as they have overcome their self-consciousness and can speak up, so will you.
First, let's consider why getting your voice heard in meetings is important.
Why Try to Be Heard?
Getting yourself noticed in the workplace is vital to your success, and meetings are the key arena in which to do it – especially if your manager is present. When you "hold your own" in a meeting, you demonstrate confidence and proactivity, and this can mark you out as a future leader.
Unfortunately, your co-workers can't read minds. So no matter how many great ideas you have in your head, they're useless to you and to your team until you express them.
Not getting the chance to speak, or not feeling that you are being heard when you do, can be deeply demoralizing – especially if it happens time and again. If they're left unmanaged, those feelings of frustration, demotivation and powerlessness can spill over into the rest of your working life. At the same time, your team and organization are losing out on your knowledge and experience, and will be poorer for it.
So, let's look at seven ways to build your confidence and gain a sense of control that will allow you to make a valuable contribution to your next meeting.
How to Get Yourself Heard
1. Have Confidence in Your Own Value
You've been invited to the meeting because you have something to offer. You'll likely have expert knowledge or skills related to the topic being discussed. Or perhaps your manager thinks that it's a good learning opportunity for you, or is interested to see how you perform in this situation.
If the reason for your attendance isn't clear, ask your manager or the meeting's organizer. At any rate, you're there because you're wanted and valued, so feel confident.
2. Ask Questions
If putting your own idea or view across is too nerve-racking, begin by asking questions about what other attendees are saying. This shows that you're attentive, engaged and interested. If you tend to go blank with fear in meetings, come armed with a few questions written down in advance. But be careful that you don't ask so many questions that you interrupt or delay the meeting.
3. Speak up for Others
Learning to push yourself forward can be hard, but most of us tend to find helping and praising others easier. So start building up your confidence by looking out for fellow attendees. If someone is interrupted, say something to steer attention back to him or her. It can be something as simple as, "Peter, what were you going to say?"
If someone says something that you agree with, say so. Having given her the credit for her idea, you might want to build on it by adding your own ideas.
When you become confident about speaking up for others, you'll feel less self-conscious about speaking up for yourself.
Remember that your body language speaks volumes. Having a good posture at the table makes a positive impression. It suggests that you are alert, engaged and respectful.
4. Be One of the First to Speak
By speaking early in the meeting, you can have your say and feel more relaxed, receptive and positive during the rest of it. If you hold back, you'll likely become more nervous and someone else may put forward your best idea. It may also be difficult to find a gap in the discussion for you to say what you wanted to say – so take the lead and be assertive.
Be aware that being assertive doesn't mean being aggressive, and that being early to speak doesn't mean always being the first!
5. Embrace the Skills of Introversion
If you're one of life's natural introverts, don't feel it should count against you in the meeting room – quite the opposite. Susan Cain's 2013 book, "Quiet," argues that introverts are essential to successful organizations.
Take advantage of the fact that you'll likely be reflective, strategic, thoughtful, a good listener, and observant. You can draw on these attributes in two ways: in the lead-up to the meeting, research the subject under discussion and plan what you want to say or ask; once in the meeting, summarize what's being said and offer a considered opinion.
6. Give Your Idea the Advantage
If you can, get yourself on the agenda, so that you will have a guaranteed opportunity to talk. If this isn't possible, let everyone know in advance that you have something you want to share. For example, if you've received an email about the meeting, reply, "I'm really looking forward to attending this meeting and sharing my new ideas about X." You're making it clear that you have something to offer. This should provoke interest that earns you attention in the meeting.
7. Keep It Short, With No Apology
Start and end your contribution with conviction. Avoid starting with an apologetic "I'm sorry, but…" This will immediately weaken your position. Start proudly and strongly with, "I'd like to say…" or "Can I just add…?"
Once you've said what you want to say, simply finish speaking. People will appreciate your efficient delivery.
Avoid saying, "I disagree." People hear this and immediately feel confronted and annoyed, and they'll probably stop listening to you. It's far better to say one of the following:
- "I wonder if we might also consider…"
- "I see it differently because…"
- "I agree to some extent, but I have some doubts about…"
When You're Feeling Confident
Meetings are expensive to the organization – just add up the hourly rate of everyone present! So they need to be worthwhile and effective, and they shouldn't be about individuals showing off or "taking center stage." Sometimes, it may be necessary to speak up and bring a meeting back on track: "So, shall we just summarize the action points of that last agenda item?"
With practice, you might begin to enjoy contributing to meetings. Explore other opportunities to speak up, such as giving presentations to larger groups at work, or even training as a toastmaster for public speaking.
How to Help Others to Get Their Voices Heard
If you're chairing or facilitating the meeting yourself, be sure to make it a safe and productive environment for everyone:
- Lead by example and set the tone for non-judgmental, inclusive and respectful behavior.
- Be encouraging, pick up on ideas and develop them – but don't take the credit!
- Invite contributions from everyone so that no one leaves without speaking.
- Don't spring new information on the attendees and expect an immediate flurry of thoughtful responses – give people time to prepare.
Meetings can be tricky to navigate. However, they're also an incredibly important arena in which to increase your visibility, enhance your career prospects, and boost your confidence. It's vital to overcome nerves or frustrations, and learn how to make the most of this opportunity. Be considerate and generous to others at the meeting, get used to contributing a helpful question, observation or idea, and ask to be added to the agenda when you have something significant to offer.
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