Learning To Amplify Your Voice In Meetings

Do you find that your views go UNNOTICED IN MEETINGS? Is your voice ignored or drowned out? TWO EXPERTS share their opinions on how you can regain control …

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Since our Look the Business 2016 speaker Lucy Kellaway identified “looking exasperated in a poised way” as the best expression to assume when silent at a meeting (she was inspired by Theresa May’s “superior but not rude” demeanour), we have all made a conscious decision to compose a “meeting face”. Kellaway’s contention is that, at meetings with men, if you do not compose your features correctly, you will inevitably assume the default expression of boredom which, she says, is “not a good look”.

However, worse still is being aware of bored faces as you yourself attempt to contribute. It seems that even when a woman is the expert at the table, she can get rattled in a meeting where men dominate – and decline to listen. At Davos, IMF chief Christine Lagarde revealed she noticed that when women speak “often the level of attention goes down by a few notches. And they [the men] start doing something else, looking at their emails …” Harvard Business Review reports: “Women say they feel less effective in meetings than they do in other business situations. Some say that their voices are ignored or drowned out. Others tell us that they can’t find a way into the conversation.”

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We might emulate women in Obama’s cabinet who found themselves outnumbered by four to one. They adopted a strategy of amplification where, when a woman contributed, another female voice would echo her views. It was very successful. Lagarde shared some of her own strategies: “You can raise your voice … you can pause because people suddenly think that maybe something is wrong … you can at that point start again with a big smile; the attention has gone up … you can use another language and people are in shock, they think they’re missing something. Well they were missing something. Then switch back to the language they can understand.”

Tips for being heard:

1 Carry on. Ignore interruptions: the other person will cede you the floor to avoid seeming rude.

2 “Let me interject.” If people talk over you, say something like “I’d like to get a word in here.”

3 Contribute early. It gets harder to find an entry as the meeting goes on. Speaking up early can build your confidence, making it easier to jump in again later.

4 Position yourself in the middle. It’s harder to leave you out of the discussion if you’re physically in the centre of things.

5 Don’t downplay. Being apologetic is weak. Don’t say: “I might be wrong but …” or “This might just be me, but …”. Looking for forgiveness before you get started is a losing strategy.

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this don’t miss our next issue, out Thursday May 4.

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