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How to Speak Up and Find Your Voice in Meetings

Updated on June 2, 2022Professionals

Meetings are like going to the dentist. Nobody really enjoys being there listening to the facilitator gibber-gabber like an adult in a Charlie Brown special.

The nightmare setup looks something like this . . .

You are the last one to walk into the companywide meeting on Monday morning. There are no donuts left. The only open seat is next to your boss. The atmosphere is, somehow, already tense—and you’ve forgotten to bring your report.

What’s worse: this meeting or having a cavity filled?

Okay, so maybe meetings aren’t always that bad. But they aren’t always the easiest place to express your opinions, either. If you’ve ever felt self-conscious speaking up in a meeting, you aren’t alone.

Meetings are the most common workplace setting where people are rendered speechless by nerves. But don’t write yourself off as an introvert just yet. Even people who regularly voice their concerns can struggle with being ignored or overpowered by bigger players in the meeting room.

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With these tips, you can learn to articulate your thoughts and convey your ideas, no matter the meeting’s situation.

Master Your Meeting Prep

Once you have the meeting’s agenda, find something on it that you can speak confidently and passionately about. If you have a budding opinion about one of the agenda items, develop it into an insightful, practical statement. This way, you’ll feel more self-assured going into the meeting. Strive to put a new idea out there first.

If you’re absolutely stumped going into a meeting—well, first, maybe you shouldn’t be there. Second, you can offer one of these three typical meeting-style responses as you partake:

  • Ask a question
  • Repeat what’s been said in your own words
  • Comment on what you’ve heard

Armed with a prepared response, you should arrive five to ten minutes before the meeting kicks off. Make small talk, find a seat, and settle in. You’ll be more comfortable with your own voice if you are comfortable in your surroundings. Once you’ve already spoken with people in the room, you’ll be more likely to speak up again.

Don’t Put Yourself Down

As human beings, we’re prone to speaking in negatives. Psychology calls it our brain’s “negative bias.” Think of how many times you’ve heard someone begin a statement with, “This might not be relevant, but . . .” or “I’m not sure this is right, but . . .”

When you begin a statement with a negative phrase, you automatically cast doubt upon your words. If you don’t believe in yourself and assert your ideas, nobody will. Think about it: who do you look up to or view as a mentor? We bet they speak passionately, igniting an urge within you to believe and discover their same opinions.

While we are hardwired for negative bias, we don’t have to let this predisposition eclipse our words. Every meeting gives you a chance to reinvent yourself. Even if you’re not the office optimist, you can express your ideas any way you’d like. Be affirmative and tell it like it is.

READ: 6 Soft Skills That Will Help You Succeed in the Workplace

Avoid Those Qualifiers

In a similar way that speaking negatively deflates your words, qualifiers add another, subtler layer of doubt.

Do you use words that lessen the impact of your ideas and opinions? Words that limit or enhance another word’s meaning are called qualifiers. Overusing qualifiers affects the specificity and certainty of your words, leading people in the meeting to dismiss your opinions.

Be aware of the qualifiers you use—both in e-mail and in conversation. Using the following words will automatically weaken your statements:

  • Actually
  • Just
  • Almost
  • Kinda / Sorta
  • Sorry
  • Maybe
  • I think / I feel

Voicing sentences ridden with qualifiers will immediately make people question your credibility. Have a coworker listen to you speak. If your statements always include an unconscious qualifier or two, you should make a conscious effort to dispel them from your speech.

Practice Makes Persuasive

If you’ve really struggled to find your voice, start small. Speaking once or twice each meeting is good practice. Even if you’re in a smaller meeting, you can still challenge yourself. The more you speak over time, the more confident you’ll become.

Once you banish negativity and qualifiers, adopt some phrases that are clear and commanding. Phrases that are direct, like “Here’s my idea” or “I recommend,” will make a big difference in how people respond to you. Be mindful of your tone, but know that your thoughts are worth sharing.

Be aware of how quickly you speak and try your best to enunciate. In combination, practicing vocal clarity will translate to a newfound vocal confidence. Slowly but surely, using “power language” instead of passivity will give you new authority in meetings.

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