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  • Writer's pictureBex @ Delphi Coaching

How to Speak Up in Meetings More: You Have My Permission

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

As a kid I was very shy in the classroom. I never dared to put my hand-up and speak out loud with everyone listening. It felt super stressful. What if I was told I was wrong? What if I was said something stupid? What if someone judged me?

I have at points felt similar in professional meetings too. A bunch of fears go through my mind. Usually, what if I come across rude? Timing the right time to speak -up can feel very stressful. I've overthought this before and then never said anything. That has previously lead me to feel more stressed about speaking in meetings. This can lead people to loose confidence and then just remain quiet. That's happened to me and I don't want it to happen to you so here are a few things to think about!

There Isn't a "Perfect" Time To Speak

There isn’t a perfect time to speak-up in a meeting or in a group setting for that matter. Sure there are things we can do to come across polite but there's no set formula and there's always a risk someone will speak at the same time as you. You may talk over someone accidentally or someone may talk over you. That can happen! (Btw: I have lots of tips for how to give you the best chance of this not happening but that's for another blog!).

It's Unlikely You'll Be Given Permission To Speak

If you’re from a minority group you might feel that you need to be invited or given permission. A part of you might want whoever is in charge to “let you speak”.

This can happen a lot for women. We’re told to be polite. If anyone else went to girl guides and/or the equivalent, you might remember being told “to think of others before yourself and do a good turn every day”. We're told others first and then us!

Thing is this doesn’t apply in meetings. This can be hard to believe, especially if you're from a minority group. It doesn't matter which minority in your workplace either (for example it could be age, gender, time in the company, ethnicity, socio-economic background, expertise). If you don't feel like you're part of the "in" group in the meeting then it's highly likely a part of you will be waiting to be given permission to speak.

Those with the “power” though, won’t necessarily realise you’re waiting for them to invite you. If someone has always been in the “in” group it might not have crossed their minds what it’s like to “not be them” – they’ve never needed to consider it!

Think about it, have you ever said to a colleague: “Oh I didn’t speak in the meeting because I was waiting for you to invite me to”. In lots of meetings (not all though) that would be weird.

Here's What Can Help

So, if you feel a little bit like this then here are some very practical tools that can help:

Use a more manageable level of "politeness": Remember there is no perfect time to speak. It’s not about perfect. You’re speaking-up for you and because you’re allowed to be heard. All polite enough, clever enough, balanced-enough to be your measure of success. No one will (in all likelihood) remember what you said in five years time.

Use the beginning: Before going into a meeting decide you’re going to and do it early on. The perceived risk of doing so becomes greater over time because our brains have more data about the meeting.

Use small steps: It can feel easier to ask a question based on someone’s previous response or just state your opinion on next steps or provide a fact that supports someone else conclusion. Have a go with this! You're partly doing this to practice speaking up so try not to be too worried about the quality or outcome of what you said. (On asking questions: there’s much more nuance as to how to do this effectively but there’s not space for it here).

Use the room: If your meeting is online ensure there’s lots of natural light so you’re physically seen and sit relatively close to the camera (not all "face" but you want people to see your facial expressions a bit). If in the real world sit where you’re visible. Near the front and not buried at the back – it’ll practically make it hard to contribute. Sit opposite people you can naturally get on with and want to get the attention of this again makes it easier to be seen.

Use your body: Make small gestures to show you’re engaged. Don’t stay head down scribbling notes (AI will be able to do that for you soon anyway). If there’s something you strongly agree or disagree with shift your body language. Shift positions slightly. This will keep people’s attention and signal you have a thought or opinion.

Use movement: Just before you speak or go to start speaking lean towards the table or speaker or into the camera. You can do this with a hand gesture too. It signals you’re about to say something so others are more likely to give you the space to speak.

Use curiosity: Try and stay curious and notice what it feels like to stay curious. We can’t be defensive and curious at the same time. Stay checked-in. Focus your energy onto what the other person is saying rather than the possible risks if you respond to what they’re saying.

I have loads more tools, techniques and very practical advice for those who want to be more visible. Drop me a message or email: if you’d like to know more.



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