Learning to Speak Up In Meetings

So you’re hesitant to speak up in meetings at work, are you? Maybe you are the type who prefers to carefully reflect before you speak? Maybe you’re just afraid? Maybe you think you have nothing to add? Too shy? Don’t like disagreements?

There’s a myriad of reasons why people are hesitant to speak up but, unfortunately, other people – including your boss – can interpret this to mean you don’t have an opinion or anything of value to add. They may mistake it for a weakness or compliance and perhaps neither one is correct.

Your contribution is valuable. Don’t save your comments for the break room or for after the meeting when not all people will hear what you say.

Surveys have shown that the average employee can spend about one third of their work day in meetings. If you don’t speak up, you’re not visible. These perceptions can derail careers. Research also seems to suggest that women have an even harder time than men speaking up in meetings.

Having a presence in meetings is vital to your career, no matter who you are. Meaningful contribution is also a key to making meetings more successful and effective and everyone will thank you for that!


Live Like You Were Playing Jeopardy Alone

Have you ever played jeopardy alone? You shout out all of the answers and hold nothing back. You run every category and you just know you’re gonna kick butt in final jeopardy.

“What’s the average wingspan of the peregrine falcon, Alex?”

“What is Bergy Seltzer?”

“Alex, Let’s make it a true daily double.”

In reality you probably only answered about 70% of the questions right. But you didn’t care. No fear on your part. You had no problem yelling out the answer. Right or wrong.

You just went for it.

So what happens if you switch it up a bit and you are watching Jeopardy with a room full of people? How likely are you to still go for it? Or, do you only answer what you absolutely know is correct? Are you afraid to answer for fear of what people might think if you get it wrong?

It’s the “Jeopardy Principle”. We’re comfortable alone but that all changes when there’s a room full of people.

Cultivate a Commanding Presence in Meetings

Not everyone is born with a leader’s impressive presence, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop and perfect your own personal charisma. These tips can help you take charge and will help you as you learn to speak up in meetings.

You get paid for your expertise.

Who knows your job better than you do? Nobody. Everyone loses if you hold back. Never underestimate your value. You deprive your organization and your co-workers of your knowledge when you sit silently in meetings.

You leave the impression that you have nothing to contribute. We know that’s not true. Don’t hesitate. Just go for it. Allow yourself the freedom to express your opinions.

Be prepared.

Understand the purpose of the meeting and prepare a few questions or comments in advance. Great conversations in meetings usually spark insight and other questions from group members.

Prepare by:

  • Reviewing the agenda beforehand

  • Knowing the purpose of this meeting

  • Knowing who will be in the meeting

  • Brushing up on the topic if you are not familiar with it

Speak first.

Be the first one to express a viewpoint. Lead the discussion rather than follow it. The sooner you contribute, you’ll spend less time worrying that your opinion differs from the others. If you delay your contribution, you’ll just find it harder to break into the conversation. Put that onus on someone else.

Challenge yourself to ask questions.

Asking questions is a great way to ease into meeting dialogues. Questions trigger conversations and that helps everyone be more engaged.

Some questions to ask are:

  • How did you come up with that?

  • If you do this, how will it affect _______?

  • What do you mean by __________?

  • Tell me more about ____.

Use your expertise to dive deeper into what others are saying. Learning to facilitate a meeting is a great step toward leading a meeting.

Don’t let anyone trample your power.

Position yourself by understanding what you bring to the table. Your involvement is as valid as any other person. If you are constantly deferring to others, you are letting them take away your strength and power. You have worked too hard for this knowledge. Use it and share it.

Start slowly and practice.

If this is all new to you, you probably won’t change overnight. Set a new goal of making at least one comment in every meeting. The more you make, the more your comfort level increases.

You will get things wrong.

Have you ever met a perfect person? A person who has all of the answers? Neither have I. You’ll get things wrong but you can overcome it. No single person has all of the answers but a group of people coming together to openly discuss ideas can make great impacts.

Think about what is holding you back. Whatever fear you have, set some actions such as the above to address it. Your career will thank you for it.

“Alex, I’ll take power over my career for $1000, please.”

Let us know what you think!