How to Speak in Meetings with Confidence and Authority
What’s your view of meetings? Are you an experienced meeting master, someone who hates them or somewhere in between?
Whichever camp you’re in, meetings are important opportunities to show others what you know, how you think and what you’re like. In many cases, meetings are where your colleagues and senior managers will spend the most time with you.
Yet, speaking up at meetings can be stressful and pressure-filled. And it’s no wonder because you’re “on show” and have to perform at your best. But that way of thinking of meetings makes it hard to come across well, especially when you’re new to the team, role or company.
It can be downright nerve-wracking to put your point across and speak in a large gathering. And when it’s with a group of very experienced people and subject matter experts, that only adds to the nerves.
3 Steps to Speak in Meetings with Confidence and Authority
To speak in meetings with confidence and authority, here are three steps I’ve found helpful in my career. They’ve also helped my coaching clients and I’d love for them to help you too.
Step 1: Manage Your Mindset
Reframe the Meeting:
Instead of putting so much pressure on yourself to “perform” at meetings, how could you reframe them to be more energizing for you?
Could you think of meetings as places where you get to share your perspective? It can be extremely valuable to get a new person’s thoughts to keep “group think” from taking hold.
Or focus on being curious and learning…
Curiosity Rather Than Critique:
I like to come from a place of curiosity and contribution rather than critique. Remind yourself before each meeting that you’re there to learn as well as share your thoughts. It’s not about critiquing each other or yourself.
In my case, the critique was always harshest coming from myself. And that was a huge hit to my confidence. The conversations in my own mind were far worse than anything my colleagues had to dish out.
And that self-editing was ultimately harmful to my career because I came across as quiet and lacking in ideas as well as confidence. Hardly the mark of the future leader I wanted to be.
Defuse Your Fear:
Fear is the oldest part of your brain trying to protect you from harm. Seth Godin calls it the “Lizard Brain”.
It’s the self-protection instinct that kept your ancestors alive long enough to produce you. It means well, but now that there are no life-threatening saber-toothed tigers lurking out there, those native human instincts no longer serve us quite so well.
To defuse that natural instinct of fear, I recommend that you acknowledge it, thank it for doing its job, and tell it that it can go back now – you can take over from here.
The more I deny my fear, the louder it gets. So the better strategy is to face your fear, love it, and send it on its way.
Step 2: Prepare Your Points
It helps to pre-prepare what points you want to make, especially if you want to establish yourself as an expert in your particular area.
Use the Rule of Three:
One way that’s worked well for me and for my clients is to use the “rule of three”. This comes from research that shows the human brain can only keep three ideas at a time. When you go beyond that, people won’t retain everything you say.
So make it a habit to bucket everything you want to convey into three main points. Or it could be just one point. But no more than three.
I find there’s an elegance to having three points – like the three legs of a stool, there’s a stability about it.
Use Powerful Words:
When it comes to making your points, think about the words and phrases you want to use. Do they make your point powerfully or do they make you sound tentative? Which words and phrases do you want to use? And which do you want to avoid?
For example, “In my experience…” conveys authority while “I guess…” does not. If you’re talking to a group of analytical people, they’re more likely to respond well to “I think…” rather than “I feel…” whereas it would be the other way around for a more emotionally attuned group. And “I believe…” can work for both groups.
No Apology Language:
When you start with an apology like, “I may be completely off base but…”, you undermine everything that you say afterwards. This is especially common for women.
Instead, get in the habit of going straight to your point without a long preamble that essentially says, “I don’t really know what I’m talking about but here goes anyway”.
Practice Out Loud:
There’s nothing like practicing out loud to help you feel confident in what you’re going to say. And no, it’s not enough to say it silently to yourself. There’s something about hearing yourself make the point that builds confidence when you get in the room and have to say it in front of others.
As one of my mentors told me, “you’re not nervous, you’re just unprepared.” Tough love is good love. Get practicing!
If you find it hard to break into the conversation during the meeting, especially if you’re on a conference call, ask the meeting organizer to give you a slot on the agenda. Or enlist the help of a colleague to ask for your input during the meeting.
Step 3: Stay Present to Spot Opportunities
Choose Your Spots:
Every meeting has three parts to it: the beginning, middle and end. And the kind of comments and questions that happen in each part are a little different. The key is to recognize where you’re most comfortable speaking up.
- The beginning is an easy time to make a point because you can be sure no one else will have made it yet – it’s like walking on fresh snow. And if you’re nervous about speaking up like I was, then jumping in right away is key. I had to hear my voice in the room within the first 60 seconds of a meeting or else the “what if I say something dumb?” voice in my head would spiral out of control.
- The middle is a great time to build on someone else’s point (they’ll appreciate it!), share your three points, answer a question or ask a question. Open-ended questions are the best for inviting discussion. And if the group is getting stuck on an issue, you could ask an innovation question like, “what if…?” or “how might we…?” to unblock things.
- The end is a great place to show your authority by synthesizing and summarizing what’s been said and drawing the meeting to a close. This is also a more advanced way to contribute, so cut yourself some slack as you practice this skill.
The spot you choose may be different for the various meetings you attend, and it’s likely to change over time as you become more comfortable and as your role evolves.
So start to notice where you feel most at ease and make use of those opportunities to speak up.
Breathe and Move:
As you go through the meeting, a great way to keep your energy and confidence up is to manage your physiology. I find that breathing is the most important because your brain needs oxygen to function well and breathing rhythmically has been shown to calm the nervous system.
Physical movement is also helpful to reduce stress and manage your nerves. This could look like getting up to get something to drink or stretching while you’re in your chair.
It’s also about keeping good posture so you’ll look and feel more alert, and your voice will carry so you can be heard.
When it comes to managing your physicality, what’s worked well for me is to sit up straight, stretch one arm out to the side at a time, and roll my shoulders (they’ll think you’ve just been to the gym and need to stretch your muscles!).
Whatever movement you choose, keep it slow, smooth and purposeful.
Start Being the Authoritative You
When it comes to speaking up in meetings, what matters is that you jump in and start experimenting. The longer you stay silent in meetings, the harder it will feel to speak up. You’re going to be in a lot of meetings in your career, so why not get going and make friends with the experience?
Right now is the best time to stop listening to the voices of worry in your head and start practicing being the authoritative you.
If you’re not speaking up because you haven’t prepared, then go prepare.
But if you’re not speaking up because you’re afraid, then it’s time to face your fear. When your fear shows up, acknowledge it and thank it for doing its job (after all, it’s just trying to protect you). Then send it back home because you don’t need it anymore.
When you’ve done the preparation, you can let go of the fear and step up into the voice of authority that lives within you.
Once you’ve spoken up, be sure to congratulate yourself no matter how you did. The point is, you’ve taken action and put yourself on the path to becoming someone who speaks in meetings with confidence and authority. So keep going!
Which of these strategies would most help you speak in meetings with confidence and authority if you put it into action now?
Leave me a comment and let me know.
I believe that you have covered the core issues that trouble people when they want to participate in meetings and also get noticed.
I’ve always found that some people are natural whilst most others have to skill themselves in this “art”.
Thanks for sharing.. this will, I am sure, prove invaluable for many, including me.
I appreciate your sharing your thoughts, Kallol! And so glad this resonated with you.
You’re right that not everyone is a natural, but thankfully this is a skill that can be developed.
You struck a nerve with the suggestion to “jump in early”. It helps you feel like you belong at the table. If you are lucky enough to have an agenda prior to the meeting you can use that to formulate a few key points you want to raise at the outset. Or simply being prepared to state what you expect to get out of the meeting can boost your confidence and show others you are engaged and there to get things done.
Great lesson May!
Thanks for your excellent ideas, Chris! You’re so right that building one’s own confidence is a key component.
This was a really helpful blog! I think it helps me, even if I’m not at a meeting, to express myself and be bold!!! Thank you for this advice!
Wonderful, Ann! You’re welcome!
I like those three points rule. It is certainly helpful to put those into the summary and if possible into the agenda.
You’re welcome, Hein. I like the three point rule too – it’s a useful one!
May, this is a great summary! Many concepts of neuroscience, mindfulness, emotional intelligence all connected but more important is you sharing your own experiences! Thanks
Indeed, both science and experience are powerful, and even more useful together. Many thanks for sharing, Mariza!
This is very good. Depending on the meetings attended it will be either of the three. For meetings at the office managing my mindset and staying present to spot opportunities are the most important. Fear needs to be defused and choosing the correct spot to jump in.
Great points, Gail – it really does depend on the situation. And key to defuse the fear and take action. Happy “jumping in”!
This is really useful advice. The most imprtant part for me is to plan in advance and I will add the 3 points to that. I schedule time in my calendar to do that for important meetings that I attend and it makes a big difference.
That’s great, Ruth. As one of my most impressive and articulate colleagues said to me, “There’s no such thing as a no-prep meeting”. I’m sure your preparation is making you stand out in a positive way! Keep going!
Thank you May for your ideas. I find them thoughtful and very helpful. The notion of practising your words out loud resonates with me and the comment that your mentor gave you about you not being nervous, just unprepared, is very sound advice. May, do you still have mentors, or a team of people ‘on your side’ that you connect with regularly? How important is it to meet up with such people?
Hi Sandy – I’m so glad you’re found this helpful.
Yes, I still have mentors and several groups of people I trust and connect with regularly. With some, that’s a couple of calls or coffees a year. With others it’s more frequent.
In particular, I’m part of a couple of Mastermind groups where we help each other progress (here’s a blog post I wrote on the topic: https://maybusch.com/how-mastermind-can-boost-your-career/). We meet in person 1-2 times a year and on Zoom every other week for one group and once a month for the other group.
When it comes to mentors, it’s more up to me to reach out to them when I need their advice, and also to keep them updated from time to time.
And of course, I have my awesome team!
We all need people we can turn to from time to time whether that’s for advice, input, “tough love” or just a friendly listening ear. I don’t think that’s ever something we outgrow.
Preparing in advance and practicing what I want to say out loud would help me the most in building my confidence and authority.
Thanks, May. This was very helpful.
Wonderful, Ryanne! The more you practice the more your confidence and authority will grow. Keep going!
As always, very good advice!
On the same note, did you check Marc Schoen, Your survival instinct is killing you
Hi Cecile – Thanks, and will check out Marc Shoen, Your survival instinct is killing you!
Thanks May. I enjoyed every piece of advice here! Those powerful words come handy!
Wonderful, Jen. Look forward to hearing how your powerful words sound when you use them!
Thanks May. This is so useful. Can resonate with the entire content.
Its sounds so simple when you say – “To defuse that natural instinct of fear, I recommend that you acknowledge it, thank it for doing its job, and tell it that it can go back now – you can take over from here.”
All the three steps outlined above are equally important and interlinked to each other (need to follow all 3, for us to be super comfortable and involved in the meeting)
For me, need to work more on Strategy 3, whether its about finding right spot for expressing myself, or breathing techniques or being authoritative rather than taking a back seat.
Question – Whilst its good to prepare, practice and say aloud the content prior to the meeting, don’t you think at times extra practice makes it more fearing or make you nervous? I have personally noticed this in past that, when like I go well prepared, practiced for meetings, this makes my breathing/circulation faster than when like I am slight/medium level prepared.
Of course a certain level of pre work should be done by individuals, but exactly how much to get involved pre-meeting? Any thoughts around this ?