Making yourself heard in a meeting is a valuable skill, one you can develop at uni and take into your career. But being in a room full of opinionated and ambitious people can be intimidating.
Here’s the thing: It’s not about being the loudest in the room. You have to think strategically about how you appear to others, including learning when and how to raise your voice, and who to support during a heated discussion.
These tips will help you stand out and gain the respect of your teammates.
Before any sort of meeting it pays to consider your role in the group and the meeting’s overall objectives. You also need to think about the meeting environment – is it a tutorial, teleconference, webinar, job interview, management meeting or work-in-progress meeting? The environment will influence your level of interaction.
Once you know what you need to contribute, what outcomes are expected and how formally you need to present, you can begin to prepare. Read through the materials provided and familiarise yourself with the agenda so you can present your best self in person.
Open your mind to new ideas
Effective communication involves the exchange of multiple viewpoints–and opposing positions. You’ll need to open your mind to other people’s perspectives if you’re ever going to find common ground.
Pay attention to social cues. Is the speaker spending a lot of time on a specific point? When do they become more or less animated? By tuning into the topics your colleagues are passionate about, you can see where they’re coming from. When you better understand what’s being said, it also provides valuable input on how to navigate a discussion toward positive outcomes.
Practice assertive behaviour
Despite your best efforts, sometimes it can be a challenge to be heard – limiting factors may include your age, gender, or cultural background. These deep-seated societal norms can be mitigated if you pay attention to how you express yourself, verbally and physically.
Be aware of your body language. Confident individuals tend to have great posture. They smile, look people in the eye and lean-in during conversations. If this doesn’t describe you, then ‘fake it till you make it’. Scribe on the whiteboard during discussions, or offer to set and guide the agenda.
Choose your language carefully. Speak with authority and clarity. Avoid apologising before you speak up, and try not to pepper your statements with qualifiers such as, ‘I’m not sure if this is correct, but…’, as this immediately undermines what you’re about to say. Reconsider words such as ‘what if’ and ‘maybe’. Use confident language such as ‘I strongly suggest’ or ‘I recommend’.
Some research suggests that in group dynamics, early assertiveness becomes self-enforcing, helping you to project a more capable, confident outward personae.
Good manners make great meetings
Productive meetings are built on trust. When everyone in the room feels supported it encourages the free flow of ideas which in turn boosts creativity.
Whether you’re leading a meeting or you’re a team player, try these proven methods to facilitate a constructive discussion:
- Employ the ‘No Kanye Rule’ – Allow your colleagues to make their points fully and completely, without interruption. This shows respect for the speaker and the topic.
- Support and amplify – When someone makes a strong point, repeat it (in your own words), and give credit to the originator. This makes the idea harder to ignore or steal. This technique was famously deployed by female staffers during the Obama Administration to enhance their visibility in a male-dominated environment.
- Simple manners make a big difference – Avoid finger tapping, stifle the yawns, turn mobile devices off, don’t make faces if someone doesn’t agree with you and limit side-talk while others are speaking – you may think people don’t notice inattention and derailing, but they do.
So next time you’re in a room full of peers and mentors feeling the weight of expectation, just remember the golden rules: bring your wandering mind into the present; give credit where it’s due; prepare answers for anticipated questions; and, most importantly, consider yourself a work in progress.
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