I’ve coached lots of people who want to speak-up and sound confident in meetings but they feel worried about getting it right. Their mind goes blank, they don’t know what to sand and before they know it, the moments passed them by. They leave the meeting feeling frustrated at themselves and like they’re not being themselves or demonstrating their true potential.
If you feel like this it’s often because you feel there is an increased psychological and social risk to speaking-up. It can feel daunting to feel like the spotlight is on you, especially if you’re still finding your way with particular content or information or if you’re getting used to a new group of people.
Here are some very practical phrases you can use in meetings to help you speak up:
When you agree with everyone so don’t think you’ll add value saying anything: State that you agree and then try and think of the alternative. Play devil’s advocate: “My natural inclination is to agree with XXXX but to check we’ve considered all sides of this, what would happen if XXX wasn’t true?”
When you agree with everyone: “It sounds like we all agree on this now. how might this change in six months’ time?
When you are coming at something from a different perspective to others: “If I put my developers/sales/marketers/strategist hat on then I can see why we’d conclude XXX. If I look at this from a developers/sales/client perspective then I see XXX. What takes priority in everyone’s minds?”
If you don’t agree with the logic someone has used: “I see that there’s the option to go in this direction and that our outcome is XXX. What steps do we need to take to get there?” This allows people to lay out step-by-step their thought process – this will help you clarify whether you agree or help the speaker identify the gaps in their own logic.
When you want to take the conversation in a slightly different direction: “I want to build on XXX’s idea that…(then state what it is you want to say)”. Note: I’ve heard this done poorly before and it’s totally transparent so make sure you actually are building on their point rather than disagreeing with it entirely.
If you want to get in early: “So before we begin, what are the key agreements we need to reach in this meeting?” This will help everybody out because everyone has sat in meetings which are dry, relatively pointless and where nothing really was discussed or agreed.
If it feels awkward to be yourself or exhibit a specific side of your character: Recognise the part of you that wants to say something – is it the control freak, the creative, the planner? Own it so people can’t judge or criticise you for it later. This might sound like: “You know me, I love having a plan” or “As someone who loves data I want to know” or “I’m a creative at heart so I’m wondering what this would look like in…” This removes any form of threat and showcases the quality as one of your strengths. People will then start to associate you with these qualities or strengths. That’s valuable to both them and you.
If you don’t know how to end your point: You can always ask “what do others think?” or “what do others like and not like about that?” This shows a lot of security and it sets the tone of a meeting. I rarely see people do this but it’s powerful when someone does it well.
When speaking-up it’s best not to:
- Ask for permission! Don’t say “can we” or “shall we”. It puts the burden on others to give you power. They’re probably not going to do that.
- Try to avoid errrrs and ummming. Don’t worry too much if they happen though.
- Talk about the points that others have made objectively – don’t state their point as belonging to them when you start to disagree with it. For example say, “So THE option we have so far”…not “we have XX’s suggestion”. That runs the risk of them feeling like they’re wrong. NB: This is different when you’re building on someone’s point then it can work to praise them.
- Trail off at the end and say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “Sorry”. It’s ok to speak up, have an idea and say something. It’s also the only way you’re going to learn.
So, there you go. See which ones you like and which ones you don’t. Give them a try and get back to me with how it went.