Speaking up in meetings is important, but not always easy. Learn ten strategies to help you speak up. Consider what you do before the meeting, your mindset during the meeting, and your words! Find the list of ten strategies at talkabouttalk.com/speakup.
ONE-PAGE SUMMARY of 10 Strategies to Help You Speak-Up
Dr. Andrea Wojnicki & Talk About Talk
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I remember when I was in my 20s, working as a young, ambitious brand manager at Kraft Foods. I’d be seated at a boardroom table, sometimes with a cross-functional team or maybe with senior marketing executives and perhaps with the ad agency. This happened many many times. I remember feeling a lot of pressure to say something and more importantly, to say the right thing. The longer the meeting went on without me saying a word, the more stressful it became to interject. I needed to say something! My blood pressure was probably going up every minute that went by.
Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you’re the one who’s struggling to speak up in meetings. Or, perhaps you’re the manager who’s encouraging your direct reports to speak up. Either way, you’re going to learn a lot in this episode.
Welcome to talk about talk episode #114, where we talk about speaking up in meetings. I’m going to share ten different strategies to help you speak up in meetings.
Let me introduce myself. I’m your executive communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki (please call me Andrea!). I’m also the founder of Talk About Talk. If you’re an ambitious executive with a growth mindset, then you’re in the right place. You’ve probably spent years learning how to do your job – the technical skills. When you look at the successful folks around you, you might notice that what differentiates these successful people typically isn’t their technical skills. Rather, it’s their ability to confidently speak up. It’s the clarity of their message. It’s their communication. Now it’s time for you to up your game by focusing on YOUR communication. And that’s EXACTLY what we’re all about here at Talk About Talk.
If you go to the Talk About Talk.com website, you’ll find so many resources to help you out. There are online courses, tip sheets, corporate workshops, one-on-one coaching, the archive of this bi-weekly podcast, AND, I really hope you’ll sign up for the Talk About Talk communication coaching newsletter. This is your chance to get communication coaching from me every week. Please sign up for that newsletter if you haven’t already.
Something else you’ll notice on the website: there’s a button that says “RECORD YOUR Q FOR ANDREA”. I love hearing from you so much, so I’m inviting you to record your communication skills Qs for me. You might even hear your voice on a future episode!
Alright let’s get into this.
Alright, let’s get started! Speaking up. Let me start by saying this. Speaking up, being heard, contributing in meetings, however you want to label this, it’s very important. (ha) Of course, otherwise, I wouldn’t be creating this podcast episode for you. But this topic comes up a lot with my coaching clients or when I’m doing corporate workshops. A lot of people struggle with getting up the nerve to contribute in meetings. Many of them have even been told that they need to speak up.
I’ve created a list of 10 strategies for you to make it easier to speak up in a meeting. If you’re the manager of that person in your encouraging them to speak up, you can share this list with them.
Ten Is a lot of strategies. If you’ve been listening to the talk about talk podcast, you probably know that I’m a huge fan of the power of three. So you may be asking yourself, why is she sharing 10 strategies with US? Here’s my challenge for you. Identify which two or three of these strategies where you think you can get the most traction and focus there.
By the way, I created a one page summary sheet with each of these ten suggestions or strategies. If you go to talkabouttalk.com/speakup, you’ll find the one page summary with the 10 strategies there.
I’ll also repeat the ten strategies at the end of this episode, so as always, you don’t need to take notes. Just keep doing whatever you’re doing. Driving, walking, housework, sitting on the couch, whatever you’re doing, you don’t need to take notes, because I do that for you. I got you. You’re welcome.
Wait – why is this topic so important? Why is speaking up in meetings, being heard in meetings, such a big deal?
Well, what’s the purpose of a meeting? I’m not asking about the meeting objective that’s printed at the top of your meeting agenda. Like status update or to make a decision. I mean generally. Why would you have a meeting? The answer is simple. A meeting is an exchange of ideas.
The meeting is different from a one way e-mail or from a one way formal presentation, because there’s discussion. There’s an immediate exchange. Therefore it’s implied if you are invited to a meeting, that you will contribute and share ideas. That’s one reason why speaking up is important.
And second, for your own sake, speaking up or contributing in meetings is an imperative because it’s your opportunity to demonstrate leadership. To share what’s on your mind. To articulate your value. Ultimately, to position yourself for advancement.
There’s a ton of upside to speaking up in meetings.
There’s also a lot of pressure. I remember a few years ago being in a board meeting and suddenly realizing about an hour in that I hadn’t said a word. The conversation started getting technical and I started ruminating, questioning my value in the room. I was completely distracted.
So why is speaking up so difficult for so many of us? Well, maybe all these reasons why we should do so are simply overwhelming. This opportunity to demonstrate leadership, to share what’s on our mind, to demonstrate our value and position ourselves for advancement, that’s a lot.
And it might be even more overwhelming depending on our cultural heritage. Or if there’s a language barrier, or a perceived language barrier. And sometimes minorities and introverts find it particularly challenging to speak up.
Back to when I was a 20-something brand manager at Kraft. Or later when I was in a board meeting. There was no language barrier for me. And I’m definitely not an introvert. I’m a full-fledged extrovert. I get energized around other people. But I still definitely experienced this stress around speaking up in meetings.
WHY was it stressful? Well, this is an easy one. I remember early in my career, being so worried that I would say something categorically wrong. Or just something that one of the sr executives didn’t agree with. I remember a few times this scenario – of being in a meeting with my boss and our advertising agency. The agency folks would present their ideas for a new ad campaign, and then we were supposed to respond. I was terrified that I would say something that my boss disagreed with.
So that’s just one example of what’s been going through my head when I hesitated to speak up in a meeting. Does that resonate at all with you?
What can we do about this?
I’ve got 10 suggestions. Yes, 10, And as I said, I know 10 is way too much to remember. So as I’m going through this list, I challenge you to think about which ones will personally help you to speak up in meetings.
I’ve got a few suggestions for you for what to do before the meeting, a few suggestions related to your mindset during the meeting, and a few suggestions for what to say, the words you use in the meeting. All of this is outlined in the summary page I created for you at talkabouttalk.com/speakup.
OK – are you ready? Let’s start with 3 things you can do BEFORE a meeting to help make it easier for you to speak up.
Can you guess what #1 is? I bet you can. It’s PREPARE. As in, be better prepared for that meeting than anyone else in the room. Know the business, the people, the players, the context, better than anyone else. Your preparation will fuel your confidence. And how could it not help you contribute to the meeting in a valuable way?
Recently, I read a quote from Janet Yellen about preparation. She’s the former US chair of the federal reserve, and currently the secretary of the US treasury. I can only imagine some of what she must’ve experienced as a female economist. Everyone scrutinizing her every word. Here’s what Ms. Yellen says:
“For me, being prepared is the most important thing. Fortify yourself by being as prepared and as knowledgeable as you possibly can. That works to bolster self-confidence…It certainly does for me. And that’s what I do to this day. I do not wing it. I never wing it.”
OK, Janet. We’re on it. We will prepare and over prepare for meetings. We will bolster our confidence. That’s #1. What else can you do in advance of the meeting?
You can create a game plan. Look at the agenda, think in advance about a comment that you can make. Maybe even practice that comment. If it’s an online meeting, write it on a post it note and put it on your computer. If it’s an in-person meeting, write it on the agenda or in your notebook.
The 3rd strategy for what you can do in advance of the meeting is to ask someone in advance to ask you a Q. Plant your comment, script it in advance. With a little help from a trusted colleague, or maybe even with your boss. If your boss has encouraged you to speak up more in meetings, then depending on your relationship, you might share your hesitation to speak up and solicit their help in creating space for you to talk. Before the meeting, you might tell them when in the agenda you have some ideas to contribute, and ask them to call on you.
By the way, if you ARE the boss and you have a direct report whom you’ve been encouraging to speak up, this is a fantastic strategy for you to help them. You could ask them in advance of the meeting when they might like to speak up. You could help them script in advance when they’d like to speak up and what they’d like to say.
OK – so those are the 3 things you can do BEFORE a meeting to help make it easier for you to speak up. #1, prepare. #2, create a game plan and plan your comment. #3, solicit someone else’s help by asking them to ask you a Q in the meeting. Script your comment. Over time, you wont need this scripting. Yes, it gets easier!
Now – moving on to what to do during the meeting. Let’s start with your mindset. The next strategy is to give yourself a quota. You’ve probably heard this one before – it is common advice. Challenge yourself to always make at least one comment in every meeting. Don’t accept anything less from yourself. And keep in mind that the sooner in the meeting that you speak up, the easier it will be. I promise, it’s easier to say something at the beginning than it is to sit and stew. Otherwise, your rumination will likely build as the meeting progresses, making it harder and harder to speak up as the meeting progresses.
Also, in terms of your mindset, think about managing your physical state to enable your mental state. Take slow deep breaths, and in particular, slow the exhale. Research shows this will lower your anxiety and optimize your physical and mental state. Physically, you can also focus on being expansive. Take up lots of space. Convince others, and yourself, that you are confident.
So when it comes to your mindset, you’ve set yourself a quota of a minimum of one comment per meeting and you’ve committed to focusing on your physical state to optimize your mental state. One other thing you can do in terms of your mindset: Re-frame your definition of contribution in meetings. Know that your idea doesn’t have to be a breakthrough solution. Remember: a meeting is an exchange of ideas. One idea leads to another. Your comment might be the inspiration for someone else’s breakthrough. So share your valuable ideas even if they’re half-baked.
One last thing in terms of your mindset. It’s this: focus and listen. Focus on the topic at hand. Focus on the team. Listen to the team. Here’s the thing: when you’re truly listening and focusing in a meeting, you’re not ruminating about when to speak up and what to say. Simply put: You’re not focused on yourself. Rather, you’re focused on the objective of the meeting – be it building the business, making a decision, pushing a project ahead, or choosing an advertising creative strategy for your brand.
Remember the scenario I shared with you a few minutes ago – early in my career when I was in a meeting with my boss and the advertising agency. In retrospect, I was more focused on saying something my boss would agree with than I was in developing the advertising campaign that would build our business. Such a shame. I should’ve been focused on the topic at hand, not on myself.
So those are 4 strategies to help you speak up in meetings by focusing on your mindset:
- give yourself a quota, never less than one comment per meeting
- focus on your physical state to optimize your mental state
- re-frame your definition of contribution at meetings to include even small suggestions
- Focus and listen. Focus on the meeting objective and what others are saying, not on yourself.
Now, the last 3 strategies to help you speak up – the words you choose.
First of all, remember that your comment in a meeting could take the form of a Q. Ask a Q. You could ask someone to elaborate on or clarify something they said. Or you could ask someone in the room what their perspective is on something, given their expertise. Yes, asking a Q is considered speaking up.
Also in terms of the words you use – You could build on others ‘ideas. Here’s the prompt: “Building on what so-and-so said, I want to add this point.” If someone says something that prompts an idea in your mind, jump on it. Based on what Joe said, I would add blah blah blah. Got it?
And last? This one is my favourite. Of course I saved the best for last. It’s something I’ve purposefully done in meetings myself. Remember the story I told you about when I was in a board meeting and I realized I hadn’t said a word, and I was questioning my value on the board? I used this last strategy then. And it worked. I’ve also coached others to do the same. And dare I say. It’s GOLD. It’s this. Focus on your unique experience or expertise. Then say this. “Based on my expertise, I want to add ____.” When I was in that board meeting I was telling you about, I raised my hand and said, “Based on my expertise in brand strategy, I want to add this point.” The beauty of a comment about this is that you are reinforcing your personal brand in terms of your expertise. You are also being completely authentic, true to you. And because you’re focusing on your unique expertise, of course you’re truly adding value to the meeting. Bam.
And that’s ten strategies to help you speak up in meetings. If you go to talkabouttalk.com/speakup, you can get a 1-pager with this list of ten strategies to help you speak up in meetings.
You probably don’t remember them all, so let me quickly repeat them here:
- BEFORE THE MEETING – Do as Janet Yellen does and prepare better than anyone else.
- Create a game plan in advance of the meeting. Maybe even prepare a comment in advance.
- Ask someone in the meeting – maybe a trusted colleague or your boss – to ask you a Q.
- Give yourself a quota – at least once comment per meeting
- In terms of your YOUR MINDSET –DURING THE MEETING – Manage your physical state to enable your mental state. Take slow deep breaths, and be expansive. Convince others, and yourself, that you are confident.
- Also in terms of your mindset, Know that your idea, your contribution does not have to be a breakthrough.
- During the meeting, Focus and listen. Think about the meeting objective and listen to others. Stop focusing on yourself.
- Challenge yourself to Ask a question.
- Explicitly build on others ‘ ideas. Say something like “Building on what so-and-so said, I want to add this. And last. My favorite strategy for speaking up in meetings:
- Speak up in the context of your unique expertise or experience. Start your comment with, “Based on my experience” or “Based on my Expertise….” And ground your comment in a context where you know you can add value.
And that’s 10!
I encourage you to look at this list carefully and then choose 2-3 strategies where you think you can get the most traction and try them out.
One last reminder: go to talkabouttalk.com/speakup to get the one page summary of this list of ten strategies to help you speak up at meetings.
And while you’re on the talkabouttalk,com website, I also hope you’ll sign up for the communication skills coaching newsletter. That way you’ll get communication coaching from me every week in a simple to digest email. You’ll also get reminders for recently released podcast episodes.
That’s it for episode #114!
THANK YOU SO MUCH for LISTENING. Talk soon!
- Email: Andrea@TalkAboutTalk.com
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