Picture yourself in a meeting with your peers and senior management. You are sitting round and the discussion is flowing and you are following every nuance and opinion. You clearly identify and agree with some and disagree with others. The discussion sparks off ideas and questions in your mind. Your mind is working very hard as you are thinking and listening deeply. The meeting comes to an end and you find it very interesting and stimulating. You turn to your nearest colleague and say ‘that was great, I really liked X but I would have wanted to challenge Y more’.
What has been your contribution to the meeting? Would anyone have noticed if you had not been there? Would anyone have gathered that you had agreed or disagreed with what had been said? Would they have known that you have a great idea about how to take things forwards? The answer is of course no.
This is a trap that I have seen many of my colleagues fall into. They are so used to working in their head space that they have lost the ability and confidence to articulate their thoughts and add to the sum of the group thinking.
So how do you find your voice in meetings, especially when there are more senior people in the organisation are present?
- Change your perspective. Make speaking up in a meeting a generous act, seeking to add value to the group. Either by affirming, seeking to clarify or adding a new idea will help improve the thinking quality of all those attending.
- Give everyone else time to think. People think 5 times faster than it takes to speak, so by speaking up you give a chance for others to think more deeply.
- Be clear as to your aim before you speak. What do you want people to do with your contribution? Is it to change their thinking, to answer a point of clarity, to challenge a team to shape their thoughts?
- Know your strategy. Think about what you want to get out of the meeting. Will it be to raise your profile, underline your expertise, to improve your understanding?
- Have an opening phrase. If it makes it more comfortable, have a phrase ready to start any contribution. Phrases could include: ‘Can I just confirm my understanding of…; I would like to clarify the point made about …; I’ve been thinking about what X has said and I would like to…’
- Practice. Contributing in meetings becomes easier with practice. Work your way up from small team meetings up to total company updates.
From the perspective of someone who has lead and chaired many busy meetings there is nothing more frustrating than hearing from the same voices repeatedly. This is especially true when you are sure there are different dimensions and perspectives that could be aired that would add great value to the discussion. So if you are someone who feels unsure about adding your voice to meetings, take the next opportunity to give it a go.