How can you speak up in meetings without being intimidated by loud talkers who dominate the discussion? Even in this age of technology, face-to-face meetings are still a vital and inevitable part of work life, so you need to make a good contribution in these settings – especially if your manager is present.
Loud talkers tend to dominate meetings even when they are not the smartest in the room. They may be the most senior or they may just be extraverts who don’t listen enough to those with a better idea. They also tend to be males who talk over females.
(Dealing with interrupting colleagues will be the subject of a separate blog.)
According to Professor Leigh Thompson of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, research indicates that in a typical 6-person meeting, two people do more than 60% of the talking. Increase the size of the group, say to 8 attendees, and three people do 70% of the talking.
10 tips for being more influential in a meeting
How you are noticed in meetings is a key part of your career success. Here are 10 tips for getting people to take more notice of you in business meetings:
- Find out who else is attending. If they are from other departments, find out a little about them if you don’t know them already, so you can engage in sensible small talk. Arrive a little early, say 5 minutes ahead of time, and have some pre-prepared, relevant small talk planned. Such chat is important because it enables others to form a good impression of you, especially if you show you know the current issues facing them.
- Be confident in your own value. You have been asked to attend because you can make a useful contribution – through your knowledge, expertise or problem-solving skills. (Even if this is a routine staff meeting, many of these tips still apply.) If you aren’t sure why you have been invited to attend, ask your boss or the meeting organizer so you can clarify this and prepare ahead for the meeting.
- Arrange with the convenor to get your point on the agenda if you feel your idea/s will add value to the meeting. This will give you a definite opportunity to make your case. If this isn’t possible, inform attendees in advance, say by email, that you have something useful you want to discuss. For example, if you’ve received an email informing attendees of the meeting, reply to all, saying “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity of discussing an update on [the topic].” In this way you are showing you have something useful to offer, which should create interest from those attending.
- Jot down 3 insightful questions before the meeting. At appropriate times in the meeting, raise each of these. Asking such a question can steer the discussion tactfully (rather than pushing a point) and will reflect well on you – as long as it is not obviously contrived.
- Build on someone else’s point: “John mentioned increasing the price. I think that’s a good idea, and perhaps we should consider a 5% increase.” When you build on someone’s point, you instantly insert yourself into the dialogue. You’re no longer lingering on the edge of the group – and you are earning points with the person whose idea you are supporting.
- Support others in the meeting. This will help you become more confident about speaking up for yourself. For instance, if someone is interrupted, you can return the conversation to them by saying something like, “Jane, do you want to finish the point you were making?” This takes the initiative and gives you a leadership role at that moment.
- Try to sound confident. Don’t sound apologetic, even if there are more senior and experienced people present. Avoid language like, “I’m sorry, but…”, which sounds weak. Be more positive with a start such as, “I’d like to say…” or “I would just like to add…”[in which you may actually disagree with the previous speaker without causing a confrontation].
- Avoid bluntly disagreeing. When people hear you say, “I disagree,” they feel you are aggressive and they stop listening. Instead, say an alternative comment like, “Do you think we could also consider…”, “Another angle for this could be…” or “I agree with your point, and feel we can even add to it by…” Similarly, avoid using the word “but.” It stops conversations and makes people feel defensive. In fact, experts recommend using “and” instead of “but” to create more constructive discussion.
- Your body language is important. Good posture at the table makes a positive impression. It suggests you are alert, engaged and respectful.
- NEVER use electronic devices during a meeting, unless arranged for a specific purpose with the convenor. Using devices in this way is highly disrespectful, distracting and annoying.
3 meeting tips for team leaders
If you are a team leader, Susan Cain offers these 3 tips as well for better results from the whole group in the meeting:
- Studies show that everyone produces more and better ideas alone than we do in a group. Ask everyone to prepare thoughtfully before the meeting.
- Go around the room, and ask people for their thoughts in turn. This prevents any one person from dominating.
- Stop the meeting periodically to give people time to think, reflect, and write down their thoughts. Then repeat step two, above.
Try these ideas and see how they work for you.