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How to NOT be invisible in meetings

Craig heard a woman say, “I feel invisible in meetings.” The woman was a rising star in her profession yet she was having a hard time getting called on in meetings. When she did speak, she got interrupted. When she did not speak, she felt guilty for not contributing and afraid it would affect her career. She felt a general lack of respect from her male colleagues.

To help the woman Craig did a little research and came up with the following five strategies, explained in this video.

1. Speak early and pre-meditated

2. Get and keep the floor

3. Be spontaneous with confidence

4. No need to offend or criticize

5. Build your credibility


Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hey everybody. Hi, it’s Craig Freshley here. A few years ago I was asked to do some coaching of emerging leaders in a particular trade association. One woman that I was working with was a doctor. She was a woman and she was rising in her organization into a leadership position, but she said, “So often I feel like I’m invisible in meetings. What can we do about that?”

Well I had noticed this dynamic quite often, that women in particular — but not only women but people — sometimes feel invisible in meetings. So I’ve come up with five strategies to help you be not invisible in meetings.

If you think you have good ideas, if you think you have a legitimate place at the table, and you want to be a full participant in the meeting, here are some things you can do.

Number one, speak early and premeditated. First the premeditated part. Prepare, understand what’s going to be on the agenda, and have some things in mind that you are ready to go with and that you’re prepared to say. Now you might change them on the fly but at least be prepared. The speak early part: you know, patterns are established early in meetings and if you can be one of the first people to speak in a meeting there will be a natural tendency to keep going back to you. If you don’t speak for the first time in a meeting until halfway or three-quarters of the way through, by that time the pattern and the credibility of the meeting leaders has already been established. So make a precommitment before the meeting that you’re going to be one of the very first people to speak up and have yourself ready with something to say.

Number two, get and keep the floor. Sometimes it’s really hard to get a word in edgewise. Now the meeting might be well facilitated; somebody is making sure that everybody who raises a hand gets a chance. If that’s the case, you need to be unambiguous about getting the attention of the person who’s calling on people. But in other meetings, there’s seemingly no one in charge, and particularly if you are a woman in a setting of lots of dominant men, you’re going to be invisible and it can be difficult to get the floor.

Here’s one way to do it. Make eye contact with the person who is currently speaking. Really engage with that person, even make little interruptions, little noises, like, “uh-huh,” and ” yup” as if you are even a little bit in conversation with that person. You are signaling to that person and to the rest of the people in the group that you have something to say and that you want to go next. If you do this well you will become the “heir apparent”, if you will, and everyone in the room will realize that you’re going to be the next speaker. And when that person is done, they will turn to you to say something. Be ready.

Third thing. Oh yeah, no, let me stay on get and keep the floor because I’ve talked about the “get” part but I want to speak to the “keep” part a little bit. You might have the floor and start speaking and….. By the way, this stuff that I’m saying, you know it applies to both men and women. It applies to anybody who feels invisible in meetings. This is not just about women in meetings of men. But whoever you are, you might feel that people are ready to interrupt you at a moment’s notice. You can prevent against that in a couple ways.

First of all when you start speaking you can say, “Look I would like to say three things (hold up three fingers). “The first thing (hold up one finger) is blah, blah, blah…” When you’re done with the first thing, hold up two fingers and say, “Okay now the second thing I’d like to say is such and such.” So that everybody from the outset knows that you have three things to say and that they should listen until you’re done with all three.

Another thing you can do is — I hate that it’s like this but — fill the empty space. Some people will jump into a gap, a breath, and use that as an opportunity to interrupt. So even if you have to take a breath, even if you have to pause to collect your thoughts, fill the space a little bit with little words like, “umm, and” or gestures that signify that you are not yet done speaking.

A third thing you can do to prevent interruptions is to cue into the person that you know is about to interrupt you. You can feel that person just waiting for the chance to interrupt you and you know what you can do? You can address them directly and you can say, “I have the sense that you have something to say and I’d love to hear from you just as soon as I’m done. Hold on a second.” And then you go on with your statement. Get and keep the floor – that’s number two.

Oh, and if you do get interrupted, don’t yield easily. Keep talking right on track. Connect with those who are listening to you. Either politely ignore the interrupter or engage with him, put up a hand or a finger as if to say “wait,” and let him know you will be done in a minute.

Strategy number three, be spontaneous with confidence. Allow yourself to say what’s on your mind, but don’t begin with an apology. Don’t yield when somebody immediately starts to argue against you. Be spontaneous but with confidence.

About apologies in particular. Did you know that women are much more likely to apologize than men? Women often use “I’m sorry” as a point of entry into a conversation. In fact there’s a New York Times article published recently called, “Why Women Apologize and Should Stop.” Whether you’re a man or woman, I’m encouraging you not to premise your statement with an apology. Be spontaneous with confidence. There’s no need to apologize for speaking your mind, that’s why you are invited to the meeting. We want to hear it!

Number four, no need to offend or criticize. It’s kind of like the rule of improv. If you’ve ever studied theater or comedy; when actors are building off of each other they use the phrase “and” “and” instead of the phrase “but” “but.” Same within a meeting. Rather than argue against the previous speaker or another speaker in the room, build on what they’ve said. You don’t need to criticize other people’s ideas in order to promote your own ideas.

If you get a reputation as the one who’s always going to criticize, you will not get called on in meetings; you will be invisible. But if you get a reputation for always building on other people’s ideas, people will want you to be the one that follows them and speak up next in a meeting. No need to offend or publicly criticize someone. If you really do have a critique for someone, you can save that for after, save that for a private setting. It’s not going to help in any way to publicly criticize if you want to be and remain visible in meetings.

The fifth thing is build your credibility. And this is something that you don’t do in a single meeting but you do over time. If you build your credibility people will want you to be in the meetings and they will want you to speak up.

For one thing, listen to other people. The first four things are about how to get the floor and how to talk with confidence, but the fifth thing here — part of building your credibility — is to genuinely listen to what other people say. And not only that, demonstrate that you are listening.

Three ways to demonstrate listening. One, when it’s your turn to speak reflect back what you heard other people say. Like, “Well it seems like what I’ve heard so far is X, Y, and Z and building on that, I would just add such and such.” Reflect back what you’re hearing. You are demonstrating that you have been paying attention. Really listen.

Number two, ask thoughtful questions. Genuine questions, not just questions to show that you’re smart, but that you genuinely want to learn more and listen more to what’s being said.

The third thing, when you make your own comment build on the ideas that have gone before. These are the ways that you demonstrate listening.

Another way to build credibility, just honor the rules. If the facilitator or the meeting leader has ground rules, follow them. Show up on time, stay to the end, don’t be distracted with your cell phone or laptop, be fully present, honor the group process. You do that time and time again, it builds credibility and people will want you to participate in their meetings.

Honor your commitments. If you volunteer to do something in a meeting, after the meeting you got to do it! Or don’t volunteer in the first place.

And the last thing to build credibility is build relationships. Harvard Business Review published an article called, “Women Find Your Voice,” and again these things don’t apply to just women, they apply to everybody. But this article points out that women tend to be very efficient. They show up for meetings right on time and they leave the meeting right after it’s done. Men on the other hand are more inclined to show up early and stay late. They participate in the pre-meeting chitchat. They joke around with their colleagues and they stay after for the post meeting chitchat. This helps them understand the hidden agendas that are going to be discussed in a meeting. It helps them build relationships.

No matter who you are, if you want to be more visible in your meetings don’t just show up at the start and leave right after it ends. Because a lot of relationship building happens in the time just before and just after meetings, that is also important time and an important way to participate; an important way to be visible.

Okay, well, thanks for listening. I hope that these five strategies are helpful to help you be not invisible in meetings. Thanks a lot everybody.

2 thoughts on “How to NOT be invisible in meetings

  1. Thanks Jules.
    So much to love about your comment: leading by example, speaking for yourself, gender nonconforming, supporting others.
    Thanks for being NOT invisible!

  2. My biggest strategy is being an ice breaker. When an opportunity to contribute opens up, especially the first one, people have a tendency to look around the room at everyone else. I think it’s fear of saying the wrong thing or offending someone. Whether in a meeting or in class if I am there I am the ice breaker.
    While I speak I look around the room. Eye contact lets me know if I’m getting across and adapt if I’m not.
    People don’t try to interrupt me which is funny because I not only look like a woman (I’m gender nonconforming) but am always the shortest in the room. I have confidence in myself and what I have to offer. I seem to hit the sweet spot of assertive rather than apologetic or aggressive. I also am energetic and colorful. This charisma thing.
    I know that the people who speak up often aren’t the ones who whose input is most needed. I use my clout to give them the floor when I can. Like “Lisa has so many good ideas. I’d really like to hear what she has to say.”

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