How to Speak up in Meetings
Think of the last meeting you attended. To what extent did you make the most of the opportunity to shine? Did you say anything? Were you engaged? What did you convey about your personal brand?
Meetings are like free advertising for your personal brand at work. Part of capitalizing on it is simply showing up and looking interested. But if you’re really going to take advantage of the opportunity, you need to speak up.
For most of us, speaking up in meetings is intimidating, especially when there are important people involved. The kind of people who have a say in your pay, promotion, and future opportunities.
So much can go wrong. I know I’ve worried about saying the wrong thing, getting talked over (or worse yet, ignored), and freezing under pressure just to name a few. What do you worry about?
Unfortunately, the only way to improve your ability to speak in meetings is to, well, speak in meetings!
5 Strategies for Speaking up in Meetings
Since you won’t improve unless you jump in and practice, let me share five strategies you can use to speak up in your next meeting and make a success of it.
Whether you’re an experienced hand or a total newbie, I’d love to see you try these out for your next meeting and see how it can improve your experience.
Set an intention
Instead of leaving things to chance, take 5 minutes before the meeting to proactively decide how you intend to use the opportunity.
In particular, based on the purpose of the meeting and who’s going to be there, you’ll benefit from making a few decisions about: what you want to say, when it makes sense to make your point, and how you want to say it so it “lands” in the right way.
In essence, it’s a bit of a game plan and a commitment to yourself that you’re going to execute on it.
You could even agree with your manager or team members what you’re planning to say, and get their help in making sure you have an opening to speak. Do whatever it takes to set yourself up to get some quality airtime.
Practice out loud
Another key success factor is to practice saying your piece out loud. In an ideal world, practice it with someone you trust. For example, my husband has heard me practice many “scripts” over the years and given me useful feedback.
But it also works if you say it out loud on your own. It’s important to get comfortable with saying it and hearing what it sounds like out in the “real world” versus in your head. Practicing a few times will make it easier to make your point without hesitation and with confidence while sounding like yourself.
In my case, once I know what I want to contribute to the meeting I like to write down a few bullet points as a reminder. I find this makes it easier to sound natural whereas having a word-for-word script makes me feel constrained. But if a script works better for you, by all means write it out.
Hear your voice in the room
Once you’re in the meeting or on the call, it can feel daunting to execute on your plan. Even if you’ve set an intention and practiced it out loud.
To de-stress the situation, I like to arrive a little early so I can get familiar with my surroundings and engage in conversations with people as they come in. For me, hearing my voice in the room breaks the spell and cuts the tension. It’s as if I’ve already spoken, so adding the points I wanted to make becomes an easy follow-on action.
It reminds me of the scene in the movie Hoosiers where a small-town high school basketball team makes it into the state finals, which will be played in a huge arena far away. The coach brings the team to the arena the night before to show them that the court has the same dimensions as the one back home, so they can overcome their jitters and play to their potential the next day.
Along those lines, if your next meeting happens to be in the boardroom or some other potentially intimidating new space, see if you can take a look at it a day or two beforehand. Sit at the table and look around. Breathe, smile and nod as you take it in. Say a few words to hear how your voice reverberates around the room. And remember, it’s just a room.
Manage your physical state
Our physical state affects our mental state. So, once the meeting starts, remember to breathe. I find the most useful breathing pattern is smooth and regular. This helps regulate your nervous system and improves your ability to feel at ease.
I also like to do something physical like sitting up straight, taking up my space at the table and briefly stretching my arms. Most people will think you’re stretching because you’ve been to the gym and actually have muscles that need stretching! And if you’re still uncomfortable, then try something a little less obvious, like rolling your shoulders back.
Give yourself permission
Then, it’s time to execute on your plan. Frame it as giving yourself permission to experiment, which takes away the pressure of having to say the perfect thing at the perfect time in the perfect way.
This makes it easier to turn your attention to what’s going on in the meeting and to recognizing when it’s time to step in and say your piece. Then, go for it!
It’ll be a great learning experience no matter what happens.
These strategies have helped me go from being afraid to say a word to speaking up with confidence.
So, whether your next meeting is a low-key team briefing or a high-stakes boardroom discussion, make the most of the opportunity to speak up and contribute.
Armed with these strategies, you can look forward to it as an opportunity to try out your new skills!
What’s your next opportunity to speak up at a meeting and which of these strategies will help you the most?
Leave a comment and let me know.