How Do I Speak Up in Meetings?

By Lou Solomon

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Every day I talk with executives in leadership positions about their challenges. Over the years, many things have changed, but speaking up in meetings is still an obstacle for many people. Again and again, I’ve heard these kinds of comments:

  • I’m constantly interrupted. People talk over me.
  • If there are senior people in the room, I don’t feel comfortable offering my ideas.
  • I don’t know when to jump in. I don’t want to say anything that sounds uninformed.
  • I’m uncomfortable when asked to brainstorm on the spot.

Financial workers or accountants speaking in a meeting

Research shows that if someone is confident, they’re assumed to have leadership qualities. If you’re not speaking up confidently and having your voice heard in meetings, it can harm your perceived credibility.

Here are my favorite tips for speaking up in any meeting and getting the visibility you deserve.

1) Be prepared.

Before every meeting, pick the most important topic for you and your team. Prepare a few bullets in advance to be ready to speak with confidence, without hesitation. Don’t wait for “the spirit to move” you — prepare in advance.

2) Ask questions.

Master the art of asking intelligent questions, which is an excellent way of demonstrating your expertise.

Consider this: If one other person at the table has the same question, are you willing to ask on behalf of that person? Your internal response should give you confidence. You will help facilitate a more productive meeting when you ask interesting questions to enrich the conversation.

A woman is raising hand up while businessman is speaking in training at the office.

3) Speak up at the beginning and the end.

People tend to remember what is said at the beginning and end of a meeting. In the first few minutes, share a helpful comment. For example, “Before we start, I’d like to review our goals to frame up the meeting…”.

At the end, you might recap the discussion (“I want to highlight the solutions we’ve discussed.”). If you speak at the start and the end of your meeting, you’ll be remembered more for contributing.

4) Don’t hold back.

Many people I’ve talked to tell me that they hold back from sharing in meetings because they want to wait until they have “the perfect way” to state their opinion. When you hold back, you second-guess yourself, lose presence, and become smaller. Your perspectives are as valuable as anyone else in the meeting.

5) Create space to speak.

Create space rather than waiting your turn. Pause and breathe—this helps center you and strengthen your voice. When someone makes an opening statement, say, “Good point, and related to that, the trend I’m seeing is…” Others in the room will become more open to listening to your ideas.

6) Don’t give your power away.

It’s natural to defer to the senior leader in the room. But leaders enjoy seeing someone stand firm in their strength and speak with ownership about their work. Speak up and cast light on the excellent work you and your team are doing.

Corporate business people in a meeting room listening to a colleague speaking, elevated view

7) Get in touch with your purpose.

What makes your work meaningful? Why do you care about your role in the organization? Answering these questions will help you connect with a sense of purpose and build your confidence.

You will realize that you’re speaking up because you care and your power comes from your purpose.

8) Learn the language of the declaration.

Early in my career in broadcasting, I struggled to speak up in meetings. I found myself in meetings with executives who were more experienced, and often I was the only woman.

Either I’d wait for my turn to speak, or when I did speak, I’d be interrupted. I used setups such as, “This is just an idea, but…” instead of “Of the options we have, the one that makes sense is…”.

Over the years, I became more assertive. I stopped starting sentences with “I think” or “Maybe we should…” Instead, I’d say, “In my experience…”. When you speak from your own experience, you are a resource in the conversation, not someone tossing in thoughts.

Here are a few examples you can use:

  • Here’s the situation…; and here are the options…
  • A trend I’m noticing is…
  • Here’s what I know…
  • What’s important here is…
  • Our main commitment to the customer is…
  • My experience tells me…

9) Take up public speaking.

Nature’s confidence builder is public speaking. Warren Buffet has advised students across the country to take it up and increase their earning potential by 50%.

One young executive I worked with was afraid of public speaking and speaking up in general, and she challenged herself to learn, practice, and volunteer for speaking opportunities. She is now considered one of the most dynamic, authentic speakers in her industry.

10) Be aware of giving vs. sharing information.

Author Deborah Tannen is an expert on the communication styles of men and women. Her research shows that when men speak in meetings, they often “give a report” to enhance their power. Women, however, share information to help others gain the same level of knowledge.

Tannen calls this “report talk” vs. “rapport talk.” In these two styles, men frequently interrupt and compete for airtime; while women wait to speak until others are heard.

If your goal is to build relationships and develop rapport, engage in “rapport talk” by letting others share the floor. However, if your goal is to demonstrate your expertise in meetings, learn to engage in report talk.

Look for opportunities to express yourself. If someone interrupts you, make a declarative statement like, “I haven’t finished.” No apologies needed.

11) Commit to your development.

Stay a student, and do the challenging work to become your best authentic self. This is the foundation of how you present yourself. Find the coaching program, courses, and learning experiences that resonate with you.

If your voice is not being heard, don’t personalize the situation; instead, take responsibility and learn to speak up.

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