Bit Famous works with businesses and organisations to help them communicate with confidence.
By Penny Haslam
MD and Founder - Bit Famous
How to speak up in meetings with confidence and authority. Today, I want to discuss a significant problem: a challenge, particularly for women in meetings. I frequently hear this from the people I work with, as they discuss their actions (or lack of them) during meetings. They become bothered and reflect afterwards when things go wrong. Speaking up in meetings, and ensuring people listen to you are valuable skills to learn. Let's dive into that today. I'm going to start with five points to cover. Let's see how we go with those.
1. Don't hold back because the next person to speak will say the exact same thing you were thinking
Number one would be don't hold back. We're talking about that moment in a meeting when you really want to ask a question or make a point, but your self-talk tells you:
"Don't bother, you'll sound like an idiot."
Or Don't, just shut up. Don't say anything. Stay quiet." right?
I say you must speak up because you can guarantee the next person to speak will say the exact same thing you were thinking, the same question or comment.
Isn't it always the case? So you might feel a bit sweaty, develop a red rash on your chest, experience an old familiar eye twitch, or notice your voice becoming slightly nervous. Push through it.
Even if you end up looking like an idiot, sounding like an idiot, or feeling like an idiot, who cares? Just go for it. So, don't hold back initially because you can bet someone else will do it for you.
2. Never apologise for speaking in a meeting
Secondly, never apologise or make yourself humble when contributing in the moment. This often occurs when you're the only woman at the table or one of the few, which is frequently the case. It also happens when you're more junior compared to senior colleagues.
Regardless of the circumstances, you might begin your sentences or points with phrases like,
"Well, can I just..." or
"Um, would you mind if I..." or
"I'd really like to... Is that OK?" or
"If I may, just..."
Or "I'm sorry, but I disagree."
You know what? Forget it. No, you're not sorry. You disagree, plain and simple. Just state your disagreement.
So let's strip away all those apologies and humble moments of seeking permission and get straight to the point. Speak with confidence, like an American, using bullet points.
- So my point on this is...(then make your point)
- My view is quite different from yours...
- Let me continue with my view...(instead of softening it with apologies or unnecessary qualifiers.)
3. Deal with interruptions and make sure you are heard
The other significant challenge in a meeting is dealing with interruptions - a classic scenario. I must admit, I get interrupted all the time at home. It's an ongoing battle with my partner regarding our interrupting habits, and I dare say I interrupt him as well. However, I make an effort not to do it in a work setting.
Occasionally, my enthusiasm gets the better of me, and I interrupt others. But then I apologise and step back. I'm aware of it when I do it, and I genuinely try to listen.
Listening without mentally queuing up what you want to say is one of the hardest things for humans to do.
Unfortunately, some people struggle with it and interrupt freely and frequently without even realising it. It's truly annoying in a meeting. So if you do get interrupted there are various ways to address it.
If you're not comfortable with interrupting or feel uneasy about it, or if you're new to it, just observe how others handle interruptions and their reactions. I learned some valuable tips from watching others deal with interrupters during big meetings at the BBC.
Here's how it can go:
- You could wait for the interruption to finish and then pick up where you left off if you get a chance. Alternatively, you can let it go, but I don't think that's good enough.
- I'd suggest stepping it up to the next level. Let's call it "Amber." You could say something like, "Would you mind if I finish my point, please? I need to complete what I was saying." Or "I'd like to conclude my point."
- And if you want to be more assertive, let's call it "Red." "Excuse me, you've just interrupted me, and I was in the middle of saying [blah, blah, blah]", whatever you were saying.
So it depends on the circumstances and the person you're dealing with whether you want to go with a green, amber, or red approach. Find the phrasing that feels comfortable and let that become your go-to response.
4. Acknowledge others and their contributions
I would also like to emphasise the importance of acknowledging others. So, point number four: acknowledge others and their contributions. This sets a benchmark for how you would like to be treated.
If someone else has made a point or asked a question, go ahead and say,
"That's a really good question. I'll answer it by saying XYZ."
Or "That point was well made. I like the way you expressed that."
Just acknowledge what they've said, for goodness' sake, and then proceed to express your own thoughts. I believe this is a healthy approach to meetings. If everyone followed this practice, we would all feel more heard and listened to.
5. Be yourself
And finally, be yourself if you can. We might observe others in meetings and notice their powerful speaking style, thinking that it's the key to their success and that we should emulate it. But is it?
I've known people who left organisations because the meeting culture was severe and harsh. It was the case when I was at the BBC. Many ideas were patronised, and it was horrible. So being yourself is your ultimate protection. Who else are you going to be? Trying to be that "idiot"? No, be yourself. Be humble and smart, polite, humorous, and even self-deprecating. Be strong when necessary, but don't abandon your true self at the door, thinking you have to conform to a certain mould. Forget it.
Bonus point: Ditch corporate speak
Oh, and point 6: ditch corporate speak. I'm going to add this to every podcast I do because it's such a hindrance. Corporate speak. What do you really mean? What is that human really trying to say? The human being inside of you? What are they trying to convey, anyway?
This point is a bit of an aside but yeah, those are the five things:
- Don't hold back because the next person to speak will say the exact same thing you were thinking
- Never apologise for speaking in a meeting
- Deal with interruptions and make sure you are heard
- Acknowledge others and the contributions
- And be yourself.
So there you go. Good luck in your meetings, people.
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