Have you ever left a meeting and thought, “I wish I’d said…” or, “Why did no one listen to me?”
While meeting participants who don’t fully respect their meeting partners are not rare, there’s a lot you can do to change your odds. It’s up to you to determine what impact you have in a meeting, and this largely depends on how you prepare and how you show up. The following 12 tips can make a huge difference, even in meetings where women are underrepresented.
When I talk about meetings, I often think of Take The Lead’s Power Tool #2: “Define your own terms – first, before anyone else does.” In my opinion, it is one of the most important of the 9 Leadership Power Tools, and it applies to any type of meeting, whether it’s a board meeting or a job interview.
Meetings are your chance to speak up, take a stand, and position yourself, to gain visibility and to distinguish yourself as the expert you are. Gaining visibility is much harder while you’re sitting behind your desk, so grab your chances to step into the spotlight while it’s on.
- Set an intention. What do you want to get out of the meeting? Hint: There is always something, even if it’s “only” exposure. Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and write it down. What we write down becomes easier to achieve because it’s easy to remember what we wrote down and looking at the written intention repeatedly reinforces it.
- Study the agenda beforehand. So you can go in prepared, and when this is an option (it may be more often than you think), have a say in the agenda. When you define or co-define the agenda, you can indirectly influence the outcome.
- Offer to lead the meeting.The meeting moderator role allows you to open and close the meeting. This is a very powerful position to be in because it gives you a chance to say what you want the result to be. It doesn’t mean you will make all the decisions, but you can drive the conversation in the right direction to achieve the desired outcome. Plus, as the one who closes the meeting, you will have the last word. Nice.
- Breathe. You’ve heard it before, and it’s important to remind yourself every before every single meeting because when we are anxious, we often forget to breathe properly. Deep breathing doesn’t only calm your nerves and bring you into the present moment; your brain needs oxygen to function properly and focus.
- Get fully present in your body and in your power energy. Bring your awareness to specific muscle groups and alternately contract and relax them, starting at the top of your head and moving all the way down to your toes. Then imagine bringing up energy through the soles of your feet, all the way up through your legs and into your torso; take a moment to focus on your solar plexus (stomach) area, your personal power center. What we focus on, expands. So allow your personal power to expand! Then move the energy all the way up through the top of your head. Now surround yourself with this power energy. This simple exercise doesn’t only activate your inner power and raise your self-belief; it also enhances your perceived presence. When you tap into your inner power, we see it in your outer presence, and you can draw your meeting partners in before you even say a single word. Try it; slowly first, until you’re able to do it in a matter of a few seconds. It works.
- Strike a power pose. Social psychologist and Harvard University Professor Amy Cuddy discovered that holding a confident pose for a few minutes changes how you feel. Power posing helps you embody confidence and show up more powerfully in a meeting. I personally love power dancing (just because I love dance). I put on a power song and dance to it with large, expansive movements. What makes you feel powerful? Experiment with other tools you may have heard of or invented for yourself.
- Walk in like a “meeting model.” First impressions matter and body language speaks volumes before you even start talking. Walk into the room with authority. This is not the same as being flashy. But it certainly is the opposite of being meek. Pay attention to your posture: Walk with a high head, an open chest (which signals openness to others), make eye contact with people while you greet them. All the while, remember to be yourself. If you prepared physically and energetically as described above, this should be a piece of cake.
- Get the best seat. Even if you are not the leader of the meeting, get a prominent seat, where it’s easy to be seen and heard. If the meeting takes place at a table, avoid sitting in second row.
- Speak up. Hesitation has consequences. Someone else may get credit for a brilliant idea you fail to express. Always listen carefully and pay attention to your opportunities to contribute valuable content and distinguish yourself as an expert. Where can you chip in? Watch out for your chances to achieve what you want, and act on them.
- Speak loud and clear.Make sure every single person in the room hears what you have to say, not only the one next to you. Leave your “little girl” voice at home (if applicable) and use your “grown woman” voice instead! If you don’t have a strong natural pitch, practice a few singing scales before the meeting. And please: no vocal fry.
- Be unapologetic and use powerful language. Avoid words like sorry, maybe, just, I feel or I just wanted to. Replace them with words such as I trust, I am confident that, based on our research and so on. Research proves the power of those statements.
- Follow up and follow through. The meeting is not over when it’s over. Take a few minutes to re-cap right after the meeting and read through the follow-up documentation when it’s available. Follow through on any commitments you made during the meeting. Which findings or decisions concern you directly or indirectly? How can you amplify decisions that could positively impact your own results or career, or those of your team?
Speaking up in meetings is not only a responsibility that comes with leadership. It can also accelerate your career. Brace yourself with the 9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career, up your meeting game and walk away with what you came for.