Speaking up in meetings is a useful thing to do both for your career and for your personal growth.
From your career’s point of view, research has shown that people who speak up early and often are seen as leaders – get this – even when they are wrong (the experiment involved solving a maths problem where there was an incontrovertible right and wrong approach):
Consistently, the group members who spoke up the most were rated the highest for such qualities as “general intelligence” and “dependable and self-disciplined.”
You’ve probably seen this in action for yourself. You see other people speak in meetings (and you may be thinking to yourself they’re spouting rubbish) but their ideas get implemented. Or even worse they articulate your ideas, and even if they credit you, they are still remembered and forever associated with the idea, not you.
So speaking up in meetings is an essential skill to enable you to be seen as a leader, to get credit for your ideas, and to progress your career.
It can even stop you from being laid off. A reader contributed this anecdote:
I have a former boss who almost always dominated meeting conversations. She frequently spoke up before anyone else could get a word in and she was hard to interrupt. Everyone acknowledged her passion, but some of us felt she asked banal questions or made superfluous comments. But then 3 of 4 people from our department were laid off. Guess who survived?
Hint: It wasn’t me with all my precious thoughts in my head, never shared at the conference table.
Speaking up in meetings is also a valuable way to practice public speaking. If you don’t have to do formal presentations on a regular basis yet, or if you have few opportunities for formal presentations speaking up in meetings is also a way to practice and get more comfortable with speaking to a group.
Extroverts have an advantage when it comes to speaking up in meetings. But introverts can also make valuable contributions to meetings – it’s just a matter of going about it in a more considered and thoughtful way. In this blog post, I lay out the most useful mindsets to take on, the different ways you can add value, how to prepare and how to be heard once you’re in the meeting.
What stops you?
So what holds you back from contributing to meetings? Many introverts have the following thoughts:
“I’ll speak up, but only when I have something useful to offer.”
Despite the research I’ve quoted above, I can’t bring myself to advise you to speak up when you don’t have something useful to offer! But, it’s likely that your standard of what’s of value is higher than it needs to be. So my advice is if you’re sitting there wondering “will this be useful or not” it probably is, so open your mouth and start talking.
“I want to make sure that what I say makes sense, so I’ll just think about it a bit more before I speak up.”
By the time you’ve worked out what you want to say, the discussion will have moved on. It may not be perfect, but it’s more important that you be heard now.
“It’ll look like I’m dominating the meeting if I speak up too much.”
If you’re a person who generally doesn’t speak up much, the likelihood of this being the case is vanishingly small. Let this thought go. If you have difficulty with letting go of this thought ask a colleague whose opinion you respect to let you know if they think you’re speaking too much.
“There’s never a silence for me to speak in, and it’s rude to interrupt.”
You may well have been taught as a child that it’s rude to interrupt, but if you’re working in an organisation where other people are talking all the time, you’ll need to get over that conditioning or you’ll never get your voice heard.
Different ways you can add value to a meeting
We often assume that the only way to contribute to a meeting is by sharing your ideas or opinions. But there are many other ways you can add value:
- Ask questions that spark further discussions and result in a better decision, for example, “what’s a reasonable timeline?” or “what consequences will this decision have on x?”
- Summarize the discussion eg: the pros and cons that have been discussed.
- Answer questions or provide additional background information that will help make a better decision.
- Support someone else’s point of view and giving your reasons for doing that. For example, somebody spoke and you think they made a lot of sense, but the discussion seems to be going in a different direction maybe led by more vocal and insistent voices.
- When the discussion goes off track, pointing it out and help steer the discussion back to the agenda item.
- Identify action items coming out of the discussion, and ensure they are allocated to a particular person or group.
There’s one way of contributing that I don’t recommend, and that is offering to take the minutes. Particularly if you’re a woman there is a danger that you’ll be put in the pigeonhole of being a minute-taker. If your role is to take the minutes, don’t assume you have to say silent. Methods 2, 3, 5 and 6 are natural extensions of the minute-taking role. The other meeting attendees will notice the contribution you are making.
Principles for speaking up
1. Prepare beforehand
As introverts, we are better at speaking when we’re prepared. And we prepare better when it’s quiet and calm, rather than trying to form our thoughts during a meeting with a whole lot of noise in the background.
2. Have strategies to keep you honest
You may have all the best intentions to speak in the meeting. But understand that your brain will try and talk you out of it, and so have strategies in place to outwit it.
3. Let go of perfection
If you’re anything like me, you want all of your sentences to come out fully formed and for everything you say to be of high value. This will not happen in a meeting situation! Let go of this standard for your contribution.
1. Get hold of the agenda for the meeting as soon as you can and study it. Look for at least two items where you can add value.
The reason to have at least two items earmarked for your contribution, is that if you lose your nerve at the last minute on the first agenda item- you’ll have another agenda item waiting for you. Use your annoyance at yourself for not contributing on the first agenda item fire you up to speak on the second agenda item.
2. If your agenda items are not till later in the meeting, find an agenda item early on in the meeting where you can at least say or ask something sensible – do some research if necessary – it doesn’t have to be your area of expertise. If you have to wait an hour or two for your agenda item to come up, your brain may talk you out of it.
3. Where you’ve decided to contribute by expressing your opinion or idea, prepare a rough outline of what you will say. A useful framework is PREP:
Point – what’s the point you’re making. Express this in one succinct sentence.
Reason – optional. If it needs additional reasoning or explanation to be understood.
Evidence – back up your point with an example, story, statistic or endorsement (eg: X company having been running the process successfully for the past 2 years). If it’s a complicated concept, use a metaphor or analogy.
Point – reiterate your point to give a clean ending.
If you plan on asking questions, spend some time thinking about the type of questions that are likely to be useful.
If there’s an agenda items where you could be helpful by providing additional background information, gather background papers or data and familiarize yourself with them so that you can quickly find relevant information during the meeting.
4. If you think that it may be difficult to make sure you’re heard, email or talk to the chair or facilitator of the meeting beforehand and say that you’d like contribute to the agenda items. Then they’ll be on the lookout for you being ready to speak and will invite you.
Just before the meeting
5. Arrive at the meeting a few minutes early and make a point of talking to people – this will help warm you up to speaking. Talk to the chair or facilitator and either mention to them or remind them that you want to speak on your agenda items.
6. Sit in a chair where you can be easily seen by the meeting chair or facilitator – this will very much depend on the set up of the meeting room, but generally opposite them will be better than near them.
During the meeting
7. Stay engaged throughout even when the agenda items are not in your area of expertise. Keep yourself interested by looking for opportunities to add value and be ready to jump in if the opportunity arises.
8. When the agenda item that you’ve chosen comes up – use the 5 Second Rule from Mel Robbins, Mel came up with the 5 Second Rule to help herself do things Ythat she knew she ought to be doing, but that she didn’t feel like doing. Speaking up in meetings probably comes into this category for you. you know it’s good for you but when the time comes you’re probably not going to be feeling like doing it. Here’s Mel’s one line definition of the 5 second rule:
“If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.”
Don’t stop and think – your thoughts will derail you. As soon as the agenda item comes up, take action – put up your hand or start talking. You may think it would be better to let other people talk first, but until you’ve become comfortable with speaking up I don’t recommend it. If you let other people talk first, they may say something similar to what you were planning to say and then your brain will persuade you not to speak up.
9. Sometimes the only way to be heard, is to interrupt. I know that interrupting can be really hard for an introvert. Here’s a way that I’ve found doable: when someone seems to be winding down and before the next person takes over “Can I add my opinion at this point?” Phrasing it as a question will make it easier for you to say, and will be better received than a straight interruption.
I do hope that this guide helps you speak up more in meetings, and help you grow your career and reputation. Remember the adage “Better to be thought a fool, than open your mouth and prove it” does not serve us well as introverts. The research shows the opposite. People who speak up often, are seen as competent, intelligent leaders. If you struggle with speaking up you may be interested in my program Journey to Confidence. It will be open for enrollment again in June. If you’re interested, click through and put yourself on the wait list.