How to Get Your Voice Heard in Meetings
Contribute and Get Noticed in the Room or Online
Maybe it's the oversized table. The looming presence of your manager. Or the loud co-worker who hogs the mic. Whether your meeting is face-to-face or online, it's easy to feel anxious, self-conscious and lost for words.
Worse still, when you do speak up and share your thoughts, you're ignored or "shot down" by bigger voices. Although it can feel like you're the only one struggling at meetings, you're not alone. And just as others overcome their self-consciousness and speak up, so will you!
Why Make Your Voice Heard?
Meetings are a key way to get yourself noticed. When you "hold your own" in a meeting, you show that you're confident and proactive, and this can mark you out as a future leader.
Unfortunately, your colleagues can't read minds. So no matter how many great ideas you have in your head, they're useless to you, your team, and your organization until you express them.
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
Chances are, you've been invited to the meeting because you have something to offer. You're wanted and valued – so be confident! 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, and they’re interested to see how you perform in this situation.
If the reason for your attendance is unclear, ask your manager or the meeting's organizer. If you don't have to be there, have the confidence to politely decline. After all, unnecessary meetings are time-consuming and expensive – consider the hourly rate of everyone present!
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.
To avoid any tendency to go blank with fear in meetings, come armed with a few questions. But be careful that you don't ask so many that you 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.
For example, if someone says something that you agree with, say so. After giving them credit for their idea, you might want to build on it by adding your own ideas. Also, you could steer attention back to someone who got interrupted with a simple, "Ayesha, what were you going to say?"
When you become confident about speaking up for others, you'll feel less self-conscious about speaking up for yourself.
Remember that your nonverbal cues speak volumes. Maintaining eye contact with the person speaking and nodding in agreement shows that you're alert and respectful. Read on for tips to pick up these signals in virtual meetings.
4. Be One of the First to Speak
Author of “The Power of Presence” Kirsti Hedges advises you get your idea out there in the first few minutes. As she says, “The vibe of the meeting is set early, and by contributing then, you're establishing yourself as an active participant."  So, take the lead and be assertive.
Be aware that assertive isn't the same as aggressive, and that being early to speak doesn't mean always being the first!
5. Embrace the Skills of Introversion
If you're an introvert, you'll likely be reflective, strategic, 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. And once you're in the meeting, use your active listening skills to summarize what's being said, show that you value others' opinions, and offer your own considered point of view.
6. Give Your Idea the Advantage
If you can, get yourself on the agenda so that you'll have a guaranteed opportunity to speak. If this isn't possible, let everyone know in advance that you have something you want to share.
If you use apps such as Asana or Mural, for example, you can post questions and ideas ahead of the meeting. Writing these out will also help you to articulate your thoughts.
7. Keep It Short, With No Apology
Start and end your contribution with conviction. Avoid opening with an apologetic "I'm sorry, but…" This will immediately weaken your position. Start strongly but politely with, "I'd like to say…" or "Can I just add…?"
Once you've said what you want to say, simply finish speaking. Or if you're on a virtual call, close with, "Over to you, Susan." People will appreciate your efficient delivery.
Avoid saying, "I disagree." People hear this and immediately feel confronted and annoyed, and may stop listening to you. It's far better to say, "I see it a little differently, because…"
Getting Heard in Virtual Meetings
Virtual meetings bring their own unique challenges. It can be tougher, for example, to pick up on the visual and behavioral cues that help natural conversation flow. When you do jump in to speak, time lags can leave you talking over other attendees.
These awkward silences and stutters make us more self-aware and can result in "Zoom fatigue" – that is, exhaustion caused by video calls.
To help yourself speak up in online meetings:
- Test your tech. Before your video call, check that you can log in to the software, test your mic, and find a camera angle you're happy with. You could also do a trial-run call with a friend. That way, you can focus on the conversation and not worry about technical gremlins.
- Reduce distractions. Tidy your remote workspace and close other apps that could take your focus off the meeting. If you feel self-conscious on screen, configure your video call settings so that you only see the speaker and/or other attendees. Some apps also have "background blur" to keep attention on you.
- Maintain eye contact. If attendees see your eyes wander off screen, their attention may drift away. So, look into the lens of your camera, just like you would the eyes of a friend you're talking to in person. Looking around all attendees in "group view" also helps you to maintain eye contact without staring.
- Check online meeting etiquette. Some teams have unofficial guidelines for online meetings. Like asking participants to turn off their cameras or mute themselves while others speak. Ask in advance how you can raise points. Do you use the chat feature, for example, or turn on your camera and hold up your hand?
After some practice with these tips, you might find it easier to contribute to remote meetings. You can also explore opportunities to build your confidence, such as giving presentations to larger groups.
How to Help Others to Get Their Voices Heard
If you're facilitating a meeting, face-to-face or online, make it a safe and productive environment for everyone:
- Only invite people who need to be there. The larger the group, the less comfortable some people will feel contributing. If the meeting has to be large, try smaller breakout sessions – in the room or online.
- Send round an agenda before the meeting. By giving people time to prepare, you'll get more thoughtful responses. If your meeting is online, your agenda should include instructions for logging in.
- Try an icebreaker to get people to introduce themselves, warm them up to talk, and help ease tensions with fun activities. Icebreakers can be virtual, too.
- Invite contributions from everyone. Go round the room or ask online attendees to raise their hands virtually or leave comments to signal that they want to speak next.
- Be encouraging. Pick up on other people's ideas and develop them – but don't take the credit! Sticky notes and virtual whiteboards can help attendees to brainstorm in person and online.
- Lead by example and set the tone for nonjudgmental, inclusive and respectful behavior.
Whether face-to-face or online, meetings are an important way to increase your visibility, enhance your career prospects, and boost your confidence. So, it's vital to overcome your nerves or frustrations, and learn how to make the most of this opportunity. To help:
- Have confidence in your own value.
- Ask questions.
- Speak up for others.
- Be one of the first to speak.
- Embrace the skills of introversion.
- Give your idea the advantage.
- Keep it short, with no apology.
Right now, most of your meetings may be online. So, remember to test your tech, reduce distractions, and maintain eye contact. With practice, you may find it easier to contribute at meetings from the safe space of your home. And when the time comes, you can bring this newfound confidence back into the boardroom.
You can see our infographic on 5 Ways to Get Your Voice Heard in Meetings here:
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