How to make yourself heard in meetings

Here's how to avoid floundering and cope with those who hog the floor.

by Rebecca Alexander
Last Updated: 20 Aug 2020

Got many meetings this week? If you're anything like most of my clients, it will be at least four. And how many of those do you feel will make a positive difference to how you or your work is viewed? For many, the answer is often 'not enough'.

Meetings should be easy. You show up, say what you want to say, an action or decision is agreed, job done. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. Others talk too much, there's no agenda, the chair is inept, and someone else beats you to the point you wanted to make. You speak too much or not at all, and at the end you're not sure anyone heard you anyway.

Let's be clear – there is not a huge amount you can do about all the other bad drivers on the road. (Although you can take the chair aside and offer feedback if they are routinely ignoring or overindulging particular individuals or groups.) But there is much you can do to improve your own meeting metrics.

The essential precursor to any meeting is to ask yourself a very simple and obvious question – what do I need to get from this meeting? Do you need to change someone's mind, discover where others stand, make allies, contribute information, question a decision, impress someone? Challenge yourself to identify at least one concrete output.

Next, how will you achieve that result? What key question or point do you need to raise? Sketch out the wording – it's surprising how many of us flounder and miss our moment to intervene. Note it down if you know you tend to forget.

Now plan for the inevitable hurdles. That person who talks over you, the chair who ignores you, the sneery colleague, your own stage fright. How will you keep your cool and ensure you're heard? Some tips here include using clean, crisp language, and avoiding rambling, woolly 'maybes', or the classic 'This might sound stupid, but...'.

If, like many, you struggle with how to interject in the heat of a discussion, use strong but relatively neutral phrases such as 'What strikes me about this is...', 'It's noticeable that...', 'The obvious gap here is...'.

Many find it useful to recruit a meeting buddy to evaluate their performance. Perhaps you lower your voice so that others don't hear you, or avoid eye contact, or interrupt too frequently. All of these unconscious habits have a detrimental impact on how you're heard, and often go unnoticed until someone else points them out to us. Yet they are easily remedied.

Inevitably, there will be meetings where you feel bored or superfluous. Turn these into your own personal learning lab. Notice how others intervene well, and badly. Observe what wording and body language works. Spot who makes a positive difference in meetings and what they're doing to get that result. Then you're even better prepared for next time.

Rebecca Alexander is an executive coach at The Coaching Studio. Please email comments or questions to or tweet @_coachingstudio

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