We’ve all been there. Sitting in an important staff meeting with brilliant ideas, yet somehow being outshined by our coworkers. We tried, we really did, to make our voice heard, but at every turn we felt like we were shut down or our contributions to the conversation fell on deaf ears. It can be wildly frustrating and rather disheartening when this happens, but in our years of feeling like we were a non-factor in meetings, we’ve picked up a few tricks that have helped us get past our own insecurities, be a more effective team member, and even impress our managers. Here are four key tips.
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: Not all meetings give you the luxury to endlessly prepare for every topic that might pop up or every question that might be hurled in your direction. But if you do know that you have a meeting on the books, whether for a specific project or even a more general staff meeting, come correct. Review paperwork that might have been sent with the meeting invite and be sure you’re familiar with the agenda and the important stakeholders in attendance. Also come ready with a worthwhile contribution to the conversation. An astute observation or a tentative solution to a problem can go a long way in positioning yourself as an essential and knowledgeable team member. The last thing you want to have happen is that after feeling as if you’re never given the opportunity to speak and make your voice heard you have nothing to say when the chance to stand out arises.
2. Understand Bias and Work Past It: While we’ve come leaps and bounds since the days when women were constantly thought of as lesser than their male counterparts, the inherent gender bias in offices around the nation and the world is still alive and well. It becomes even more apparent when we’re all forced to be in a meeting with male coworkers and for some strange reason they feel the need to talk over you. They feel compelled to disregard whatever you’re able to interject into the conversation to just continue with whatever nonsense they were just spewing. As frustrating as it is, as unfair as it is, there is nothing you’re going to be able to do to change their mind, so you have to work around their ignorance.
If you get the sense that your male coworkers aren’t taking what you have to say as seriously as they should, make your voice heard more clearly. Come prepared with materials highlighting important points you want to make and provide supporting materials to that effect. In short, have your ish as buttoned up as possible. If, even after being your awesome, well-prepared self, you still feel like you’re being pushed out of a conversation you have a lot to contribute to, don’t be afraid to be more forceful during these meetings. That’s not to say you have to be disrespectful or antagonistic, but if you get cut off during an important point, don’t be bashful about pushing your way back in. Their ignorance shouldn’t derail your genius.
3. Get out of Your Comfort Zone: If you’re not one who enjoys being outspoken or drawing much attention to yourself in meetings, we’re going to need you to work on that. It’s easier said than done, but as much as it might not be your nature to offer up your opinion in a group meeting it’s a valuable skill and important one to master if you plan on moving up the ranks.
Managers want to see your ability to command the room, to put forward a plan and see it through. Being able to do that begins with sharing your vision with team members and getting them to invest in your position and, ultimately, working to help you execute it. But if you prefer one-on-one interactions as opposed to group settings, start slow. Don’t jump head-first into being more vocal during meetings, but instead slowly ease yourself into contributing more to the conversation. Or, if you’re unsure about an idea, run it past a trusted coworker before the meeting so you know that at least you have someone who understands where you’re coming from. Even having one reassuring nod from that colleague during the meeting can give you all the confidence you need. Another trick we employ: Props. We’re not suggesting that you coordinate a whole song and dance if it’s unnecessary, but having a few materials with you can make your points really resonate to a group who, let’s be frank, probably zones out about 15 minutes after a meeting starts can do wonders. Whether it’s a one-sheet overview of a new vendor you’re introducing or a short video illustrating a best-practice, having material support will lessen the burden on you to keep colleagues’ attention and give them something to interact with which will leave a more lasting impression.
4. If You Can’t Make Headway, Enlist Help: If you consistently find yourself struggling on the meeting front, don’t be bashful about recruiting a little help for this mission. Among coworkers you like, trust and respect, let them know about your struggles and see if there might be a way for them to help you. Maybe it’s being an audience for you before your actual meeting. Maybe there is something that could be presented as a small group or pair, allowing you to work with others and lessen the stress of presenting on your own. Even simple tactics like these can help to make the idea of presenting seem far less daunting and ultimately position you for far greater success now and down the line.