During my meetings with clients I’ve often sat at tables with individuals from various demographics representing their companies. They’ve been men, women, senior management, middle tier managers, team members and so on. Unless I’m in a meeting with predominately women, I’ve often felt that men do most of the talking. I did some reading on this and found that it’s not just something I’ve observed, but generally women aren’t speaking up in meetings as much as they ought to. What’s more interesting is that the same is happening in internal meetings within the company. Women participate in the meeting but seldom do they contribute to it.
There could be several reasons why this has been happening. It could be they haven’t overcome their shy personalities and hence choose to silently participate in the meeting. Maybe they were told by their managers to listen and learn and so they didn’t contribute much. Or maybe it’s because they just didn’t have anything to say.
Since you can’t avoid attending meetings, mainly because it’s part of your job and because you are talented enough to be there, here are a few tips on how to increase your chances of speaking up in meetings.
Use Your Abilities to Your Advantage
Studies have shown that women have stronger analytical skills than men. So the questions is how you can use this ability to your advantage? One way could be to master your preparations to meetings. Instead of walking in ill-prepared, make sure you have all the facts, numbers and support to your arguments or decisions readily available to you. Numbers are always weighed higher in meetings because they’re harder to challenge and form baseline for many decisions. So have your numbers handy and you’ll be a shining star in any meeting.
Another research has found that women are very efficient. They’re usually punctual at arriving to meetings, stick to the agenda and leave for the next meeting when the current one is finished. Men on the other hand tend to share varying ideas and use meetings to connect as well. Women remain focused and move on more efficiently. This can help you get more done in less time and your productivity will propel your image as a “must-include” in any meeting.
Avoid Over-Analyzing Your Thoughts
More often than not women think and rethink what they’re about to say. This stems from the natural instinct women have to be non-threatening (in general) and not to sound aggressive. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s great not to just blurt things out and make a fool of yourself or offend someone. But not making a point at the right time can backfire.
You’re smart, talented and you’re in that meeting for a reason (and that reason isn’t just to fill an empty seat). Be confident in what you’re about to say. If you have a point to get across don’t think it over for more than 15 seconds. That’s all the time you should allow yourself to formulate what you’re about to say and then be heard. What’s the worst that could happen? You may not be correct and so you’ll learn something. Or, you may be correct and you’ll have added value to the conversation, earning yourself credibility.
Deliver With Confidence
If you’re going to start your sentence with “I’m sorry to jump in”, or “I’m not too sure about this but I feel…” then you’re setting yourself up for an argumentative and challenging meeting. You won’t be taken seriously in a meeting if you aren’t confident about what you’re saying, irrespective of which gender you are.
You’ve arrived to the meeting prepared and you have solutions. Don’t let your nerves get the best of you. Speaking up in meetings will enable you to showcase how prepared you are. Deliver what you have to say with confidence, assertiveness (not aggressiveness) and surety. You’re entitled to your opinion which people could agree with or feel otherwise about. That’s only natural but if you’re unsure about yourself, or deliver your message in a manner that reflects self-doubt, you’ll lose your audience’s attention. It’s exactly how the cliché goes – it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Irrespective of the reasons, you’re there in the meeting for a purpose. You’re working in the company for a purpose. And that purpose was defined when you were hired. From then on you’ve done a marvelous job to make your mark. You’ve been a talented and skilled member of the team. So if you’re all that, why hold back on what you have to say. Speaking up in meetings will only give you the ability to add more value and earn more respect.