“How do I speak up in meetings – without looking an idiot?”

The questions I get asked when almost everyone has left the training room are priceless. They tend to be something that really matters to someone, yet they’re reluctant to let others know. So if you’ve ever pondered this question but not asked it, here it is (and to the people who ask questions at the end of workshops, Thank You).

You’ve been told it’s time you spoke up in meetings. That’ll be after the put-downs you received when you were new, extremely keen and aired your thoughts and opinions on pretty much anything. How dare you speak up in meetings, bad girl/boy! Yet now, you’re being told that you need to ‘build credibility’, ‘get your voice heard’ and of course speak up in meetings. But you’re worried that you’ll be met with the reactions you got before. So give yourself a role in meetings that involves speaking, and is valued by everyone there. Try these 4 tips:

1. Make clear and detailed notes
It’s amazing how many people don’t make notes in meetings. As a result, most attendees leave the room with at best a vague recollection of what went on. So instead of just sitting there, make notes. Use numbers, symbols, underscores to make them easy to read back. Or create a Mind Map. To do this well, you will have to follow what is said by listening intently.

2. Ask questions to clarify
Listening is different to sitting there mutely. One aspect of listening well is asking the right questions. So you are perfectly entitled to ask, “Just want to check I’ve got this right for our meeting notes, are we moving the deadline back 2 or 3 weeks?”, or “Can I just check who’ll be doing that and when the deadline is, so I can put it in the action points?” When you establish a purpose behind your question, that serves  the group, you will get answers. And you’ll probably be helping others who were sitting there unsure too. If you’re following the discussion intently (rather than simply waiting for your turn to speak), asking questions to clarify can be a big ‘get out jail’ card for speaking up in meetings.

3. Offer to write up action points
Whenever I’m setting up a workshop at the client’s premises, I can see that flip charts are used extensively to explain, communicate and develop ideas. What I seldom see are action points – which is hopefully because some bright person has, a) written them up and then, b) taken them away to type up and distribute. Too many meetings are vague about what has been agreed, what the action is, who is doing what, and by when. Ask a few people who were in the same meeting what they think they’re doing next, and they may not be able to tell you. Writing action points up where everyone can see the what/who/when removes any doubt – and can provide much needed clarification before someone takes a half-baked task away from the meeting. As you write the points up, check with the meeting that you have the right what/who/when.

4. Recap the meeting
If you’ve been taking notes and/or writing points up on a whiteboard, you’re in pole position to summarise the meeting. What was agreed? What’s happening next? Who’s doing it? By when? Check everyone agrees. Your speaking role then becomes essential and of great interest to the room.

By grabbing a specific role in meetings you won’t be a spare part; you’ll be supporting and helping people. From there you will be able to contribute more as your understanding grows.


You may find this post useful:  ‘Help! My boss told me I ‘need more gravitas’ – what can I do?’   

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’



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