A recent Harvard Business Review article states that everyday approximately 55 million meetings occur in the United States. Love them or loathe them, no one can deny that a great deal of critical interaction, sharing, ideation, and decision-making happen in meetings. High performing teams are, in essence, all about the strategic approaches, culture, and practice of having great meetings.

Of course, speaking is a fundamental way we interact, communicate, and add value at a meeting. “Actively participating in substantive discussion has a positive impact on your team and your organization,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching. “And it’s vitally important to your career. You may be meeting with peers or with people at a higher level of your company. No matter, many will consider when and how you speak up at a meeting a barometer of your abilities, or potential, as a leader.”

But how often do we think about our presence at a meeting —  assuring that, to the best of our ability, we are contributing at the highest level possible? How do we effectively speak up?

Wait, Why Am I Speaking?

Some people love connecting and interacting with others. Some enjoy the spotlight. Sometimes, people talk too much. When we speak up too much, it’s counterproductive for the team. And if you have a reputation for talking too much, people will tune you out — even when you have something truly useful or insightful to say.

  • Always ask yourself “Why.” “Why do I want to speak up?” Your point or comment should always be material and help move the conversation forward. Does it offer new information or a new perspective for the team? Does it challenge a previous point or bring unconsidered roadblocks to light? Does it help the team arrive at a conclusion?”
  • No show-offs please. Check your ego at the door — don’t speak just to show-off how much you know about a topic.
  • Your title does not matter. Do not speak up simply because you think that your position relative to others at the meeting demands it. A vice president is not required to speak more than an assistant vice president.

But Don’t Hold Back, Speak Up Now.

Some people are less comfortable expressing themselves in group settings. Some have a tendency to quietly analyze and consider what’s being said, waiting until the discussion begins to wind down before adding their thoughts — if they speak at all. When we don’t speak up enough we’re not contributing or helping the team move forward. People may think we’re not interested. We’ll be regarded as followers, not leaders.

  • Don’t talk yourself out of your “Why.” Ask yourself “why,” as mentioned above, but don’t rationalize your way out of speaking up. When you have a relevant point to make or a piece of information to share, do it in the moment, don’t wait.
  • You have something to contribute. You’re attending the meeting for a reason: people believe you have expertise and they want to hear from you. Speaking up in the moment recognizes your role, provides you the opportunity to be an active participant, and gives you credit for your thinking, insight, and problem-solving.
  • Never wait to be asked what you think. If that happens, the team is now dragging information out of you. It creates the perception that you’re disengaged from the meeting, you don’t care about the issue, or worse, you have no thoughts that are of value to offer. 

Preparation Goes a Long Way

We could all benefit from spending some time before a meeting to consider what the meeting is about and how we can add value. What issues do we think are most critical? What questions do we have? What priorities do we think are most important?

  • Compose a few advance talking points. A small number of well-considered bullet points will help keep us focused, contributing at our highest level, and speaking up at the right time — about the right things.

Sofia struggled to speak up at meetings. She felt tongue-tied and lacked confidence about what to say and when. She began preparing for meetings with simple bullet points. Over time, this helped her build confidence in articulating her thoughts and offering ideas and comments that she believed the team would find useful. Here’s is a recent meeting prep note Sofia created:

“Going into the product launch meeting:

  • I really like the packaging recommendation. It’s both creative and functional, and it supports our brand really well. I think we should approve it.
  • After reviewing the marketing plan, I’d like us to talk about the possibility of spending more marketing resources on Instagram — it seems a better fit with our target market. Other’s thoughts?
  • It’s critical to be totally confident that our call center is ready to handle expected inquiries — can we confirm that product and sales training will be completed on schedule?”

Sofia’s bullet points help her organize and frame her thoughts, enabling her to speak up with confidence. They will also help keep the “big talkers” under control. It helps everyone focus on those things most critical to a productive meeting. For thoughts about how to lead a meeting read Arden Coaching’s “Six Ways to Lead More Effective Meetings!” 

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To learn more about developing your communication and leadership skills and how to create high performance teams, contact Arden Coaching at info@ardencoaching.com or 646.684.3777.