Clients often tell me they find speaking up in meetings, particularly with superiors and large groups, daunting. While there is a lot to be said for talking less and listening more in meetings, it is important to feel confident in contributing.
Four pieces of advice for finding your voice in meetings:
- Remember you have been invited for a reason
Remember that you have been invited to attend by your boss, colleague, client or board to be part of the meeting for your expertise and perspective. Your contribution is important and valuable. This doesn’t mean don’t listen and learn but it’s important to contribute, ask questions and share your experience. We know that diverse thinking generates better outcomes, so don’t be afraid to voice your opinion because you worry it may not be ‘of value’ or ‘others have already commented’. You are there for a reason so recognise your value.
- Use others
You can bounce off others to give yourself confidence or even to get a chance to speak if there are limited gaps. Jump in with a thoughtful question or build from others in the meeting that say something that you agree with. Use this as a platform to reinforce their perspective and then add your own. It’s less intimidating, offers an entry point and you know you’re not alone in your opinion. Next time, work on getting your idea out there first.
- Take micro-risks
One of the reasons that you don’t speak up may be because you second guess yourself and fear you’ll be shut down, your opinion won’t add enough value or no one will listen. Try pushing yourself out of your comfort zone at a time when the stakes are low. It could be a smaller meeting, one with colleagues, not the board, or one that is about your area of expertise. Challenge yourself – if you are present and have listened, speak up earlier than you usually would, ie contribute within the first 5 minutes or before everyone else has had a turn and more times than usual. It won’t always land but the risk and damage is low and provides practice for the next time around.
What is the objective of the meeting? What is your role in this meeting? Where could you add the most value? Thinking about these questions before the meeting allows you to reflect on the perspective you want to bring. Review the agenda and think about the one item that matters to you the most. Or, is there an item you’d like to add to set the scene for the contribution you’d like to make. Before the meeting, hone your message. Prepare what you want to say and how you are going to share that opinion. Be succinct, choose phrases such as ‘I recommend’ versus ‘I think’ and create impact through your perspective. You can also prepare by speaking to others attending beforehand or by testing your idea with trusted colleagues to get feedback. The less surprises, the more confident you’ll feel.
by Tessa Sexton, Director, McCarthy Mentoring
McCarthy Mentoring’s Emerging Leaders Mentoring Program strengthens the leadership capability of talented middle managers and technical experts moving into broader roles.