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Lean In: How We Can Own The Room And Speak Confidently in Meetings

Jen Dziura  |  August 4, 2018

It can be hard when others speak over you, interrupt you, and are in love with their own voices.

It pays for us to contribute confidently in meetings. By now we’ve read “Lean In” (and if not, go get it now and read it!). You don’t want to end up in a six-month performance review with a boss who complains that you “don’t speak up.” But it can be hard to speak up when others speak over you, interrupt you and are apparently in love with the sound of their own voices. Owning the room in a confident way can happen in your own way.

I’m not talking about psyching yourself up in the bathroom mirror before going into a meeting, although Amy Cuddy’s famous TED Talk about power posing is worth a watch. You don’t need to become louder and more aggressive. You don’t need to become part of the problem.

Read on for tips on speaking up and getting heard.

Interrupted? Interrupt Back

Soraya Chemaly in the Huffington Post wrote that there are 10 words every girl and woman should learn:

“Stop interrupting me.”

“I just said that.”

“No explanation needed.”

But for a meeting involving your boss, “Stop interrupting me” is probably a bit harsh. You need to have some meeting-appropriate alternatives at the ready so you can get back to what you were saying before the interrupter runs away with the conversation (and possibly takes credit for your idea).

I’m a fan of the joking-not-joking approach. For instance, “Hang on, I’ve still got the floor.”

Also, get in the habit of confidently turning attention back to other people who get interrupted. As in, “Hang on, Sameera wasn’t finished. Sameera?”

If you do this consistently for everyone, then even when you do it for yourself you’ll come across as someone with a good attention span and an appetite for order, rather than as someone seeking attention for herself.

And, of course, some of the people you lend a hand to will, hopefully, do the same for you.

Create a ‘Teaser’ via Email

If the meeting’s agenda is set in stone (or a Google doc), and the person running the meeting doesn’t seem to care that you exist, pump up your contribution the way you’d promote an indie film you’re hoping becomes the new sleeper hit — with a teaser.

If it’s normal in your company to “reply all” with the group attending your meeting, wait for the email reminder about the meeting, reply all, and write, “Can’t wait! I have some ideas about how to solve the LogicCorp problem! Looking forward to everyone’s feedback.”

Ooh, teaser! Now it would be weird if the whole meeting went by and you didn’t contribute. You’ll get your opening. You’ve created suspense.

If the group email won’t work, try the same thing in person. Catch others who will be in the meeting later at the proverbial water cooler, and tell them, “I have some amazing data that will help us decide X.” If pressed about the “amazing data,” say, “Let’s save it for the meeting so we can get everybody’s feedback.”

Create the Agenda

Do meetings just come and go, while you barely get a word in? Set the agenda.

Even if you’re the least powerful person in the room, you can often set some part of the agenda. Who called the meeting? Run into that person a few hours before the meeting and ask what the agenda is. If you get a vague answer (“Well, we’re just going to talk about …”), try something like, “Great, I’d like to make sure I get to share [this thing I’ve been doing] so we can all coordinate [other parts of the project]. Can we make sure we give that five to 10 minutes?” Or, “I’d like to give a progress report on X. Can I get five minutes for that?”

If what you really want to do is have your ideas heard and get credit for them, don’t say that, exactly. Couch it in language no boss could say no to. For instance, you’d like to give an “executive-level briefing” about Project X. Ooh, executive-level briefings are for important people! I want one of those!

If you can’t quite pull that off, “briefing” is still a great word. It puts the emphasis on the importance of the listener, which can help to get you airtime.

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