At meetings, women speak 75% less of the time than men, and anyone who is shy, or introverted, or reserved, is likely to find it hard to make a contribution, so talented, able, valuable people are perceived to lack clout and influence because their voice isn’t heard.
This situation, unfair as it is, is not going to change, but you can change the way you behave at meetings – and you don’t need to change your personality. Why on earth would you even think of doing that? You’re fine.
But with a little tweaking of your mental approach, and some judicious use of strategy, your steady star need no longer be hidden by the flashy comets which eclipse less obvious but equally significant bodies.
Get into your role
Think of your next meeting as a scene from a play or television drama.
The meeting agenda is like a prepared script, around which dialogue will be improvised. The people attending the meetings are like characters. You might know some or all of them, and recognise the ones who likes to dominate, the one who argues with everything, the one who agrees with everything and so on. There may be some people you don’t know, but you will be able to assess them from observation.
Decide what your role is, and what your personal agenda is:
It may be to speak once, or three times.
It may be to be noticed by certain people, and to make a good impression on them.
It may be to say something on a topic about which you have strong feelings.
Don’t leave it to chance. Take control.
Do some homework
Study the agenda or meeting notes.
Note the topics on which you have something to say.
Write down the points you intend to make, and prepare some questions. Learn them. You won’t deliver them like a script, but you will be pre-armed with contributions, and the process of formulating questions and comments will help to clarify your ideas.
Find out who is going to attend. All your careful preparation may fly out of the window if you unexpectedly find you are sitting opposite someone with whom you have awkward history (oh, what fun for the onlookers!) or someone you find particularly intimidating.
Manage your arrival
Your instinct might be to creep in unobserved at the last minute and take the least obtrusive seat – but you’re playing a part, remember? Get there a little early. Acknowledge the other participants. Just making brief eye contact, saying hello and smiling is fine. But do it to everyone.
Control your body language
Don’t scuttle or creep. Look as if you are entitled to be there.
Keep your posture upright
When you sit down, don’t make your body shrink.
Take up the right amount of room – don’t spread into someone else’s space (as if you would!) but place your belongings so as to prevent anyone from spilling into yours.
Don’t fiddle, and keep your hands away from your face.
Don’t study your phone as if it contains the secret of the universe.
Watch other people. You’re probably good at reading a room and sussing out a likely scenario.
Look engaged, and fully present.
This is crucial. You must speak, and you must speak sooner rather than later. Everything you say after your first contribution will be easier to articulate because you will be used to the sound of your voice and you will have established your presence.
Signal your intention to speak. Lean forward, raise your head, and show your hands, palms open.
What you say doesn’t have to be clever or original. It just needs to be heard.
You can break your internal ice by agreeing with or supporting what someone else has said. You can piggyback on to another person’s offering by adding a little coda.
You could ask one of your prepared questions, or even one which occurs to you on the spot. You could ask for clarification of someone’s point.
- Use strong language
- Don’t use weak expressions such as
— ‘I’d just like to say’ or
— ‘I might be wrong, but..’ or
— ‘This may sound stupid’ or
— ‘I was just wondering..’
- Remember your role. Use the phrases that define you as a character with impact and authority.
— ‘My view is..’
— ‘My point is..’
— ‘I would like to know…’
- Don’t say too much, or wander off into tangents.
- Make your point crisply, and finish.
- Nod slightly as if to underline what you have said, and move back a little.
Make a good exit
You might feel like sighing with relief and dashing for the door, but just as you entered in a controlled fashion, leave the meeting with similar poise. You can collapse in a heap later. But you know something? You might not need to.