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I am working as an IT Consultant for an US-based Organization. My role is development team lead. I've been having some trouble grabbing the opportunity to talk and add my points to the discussion in formal meetings.

Attending different kinds of meetings are a daily part of my life. The kind of meetings that I am used to attending are one-on-one, many-to-many and teleconference. Most of the time when participants in the meeting are seriously discussing things, some valuable points, ideas or questions flash to my mind and I feel those can add some value to the discussion. But I am facing difficulty with interrupting others.

One reason is that I don't know how to do it gracefully without giving a bad impression. And another reason is a fear of rejection and a worry in case it doesn't add value to the meeting and I embarrass myself.

Hence my questions here are:

  1. How can I overcome this fear of being rejected and prepare myself to interject and talk?
  2. How can I gracefully interrupt others and grab the opportunity to talk?
  • possible duplicate of How can I overcome my fear of public speaking? – gnat May 16 '14 at 12:50
  • 3
    This is definitely NOT a duplicate. If it gets closed, please ping me, and I'll reopen it. – Jim G. May 18 '14 at 20:09
  • This is actually quite easy. Take a notebook and jot down the important points, ideas, etc. When a "natural" point occurs for you to interject, do so, then address the items that you wrote down. Don't wait too long though, or it becomes more tedious for others since their brains may have moved to a different task/item for the meeting... – daaxix May 19 '14 at 1:16
  • My guru told me Preparation is the key to success. – kinkajou Jun 11 '16 at 4:20
  • This is an excellent question. +10 if I could; a problem faced by many but few would admit. – Burhan Khalid Jun 12 '16 at 7:15
28
  1. Bring something substantive to say to each meeting
  2. Be sure to say that substantive comment in each meeting
  3. Learn from the experience doing it

Don't be a wallflower

An executive at one of the companies I've worked for said:

If you go to a meeting and don't say anything, you shouldn't have been there in the first place

You are in those meetings for a reason. Or at least some of those meetings for a reason. Find something to share in the meeting that adds value to having a bunch of people locked up in a room together for an hour.

Share that substantive thing

If someone has something of value to share, that means a lot more to me than a graceful interruption. And no matter how graceful the interruption, I'm not going to be content if what comes out next is entirely worthless given the content of the discussion.

Find a way that works for you:

  • Just speaking out
  • Raising your hand
  • Saying 'excuse me' until someone pays attention
  • Making puppy-dog eyes at the meeting organizer
  • Bringing an 11"x17" (or A3) sheet of paper that says, "I have something substantive to say" and hold it up, etc.

But say that comment. And add value to the meeting. Some people love to hear the sound of their own voice and may not want to be interrupted. The other however-many-people in the room may be thankful you stopped them from rambling and wasting their time. The goal of meetings is to get something done, so just do it.

Learning from experience

As you speak more in meetings you will figure out when the best times to get a word in edgewise are. You will figure out which people are willing to cede the floor to you, or are attentive to see that you have something to say and will shift the conversation to you. You will figure out the best ways to get attention, and the best way to deliver your message.

But first you just need to go in a meeting, have something of value to say, and say it. Practice makes perfect.

  • 5
    This is excellent advice all around. I sometimes just hold up a finger for a second in a face to face meeting (being careful not to point at anyone). This provides a visual cue that I'd like to say something without being too disruptive. 9 times out of 10, at the next lull, someone will ask if I had something to say. – Roger May 16 '14 at 16:36
10

Different groups of people have different ways of communication. In some groups, everyone is expected to not speak while someone else is speaking, instead waiting until there's a break where it's easy to insert oneself. In others, everyone is expected to interject and break in while the previous person is speaking, as long as you're keeping on the same track. In others still, interrupting and taking over the conversation is just how everyone does it, and if you wait for a "good moment" you will never get a word in.

None of these ways are wrong in themselves, but if you're used to one style, it can be hard to adapt to a different one when you get into a new group. It seems to me that you're most comfortable with the first variety, and your coworkers are of the second or third one. It wold be nice if the boss/facilitator/whoever is in charge of the meeting could make sure that everyone gets heard, but they may not even be aware that there is a difficulty. (If/when you are the leader in a group or meeting, remember this and try to do better!)

How to interrupt

I'll answer the second question first - how to gracefully get in there. My advice is to look at how other people do it. Do they interrupt? Do they make gestures to get everyone's attention? Do they lean in and go "uh-huh, yeah, also I think that..."? There will be some sort of unwritten rule or standard here - you need to figure out what that is. Once you've done so, you can apply that rule to yourself - if it's OK for them, then that means it's OK for you.

How to get the confidence to speak

The first question is harder. It's easy to say that you need more self-confidence, but it's hard to get there... Is there anyone in the group that you feel comfortable with? If so, could you speak to them after a meeting? Think of a point that you wanted to make during the meeting and bring it up with them - something like "Oh, after the meeting I got to thinking about the screwdrivers - what do you think about reversing the polarity?" You'll get feedback on your idea without it being in front of a dozen people. Also, you're building a rapport and a reputation - next time you're in a meeting, they will be supportive from the start because they already have a good opinion of your ideas.

At this point, every time you go to a meeting and don't say something, it will be harder to say something at the next one. You're building it up into a huge enormous decision. The only way to get past is through - make up your mind to say just one single thing. It doesn't have to be brilliant, it just has to be one single thing that you said. If you manage that, you have won. The one single thing can be as short as "I think that what Jim said is very interesting." At this point, your goal is to break the silence.

Next time, go for two things. After a few meetings when you've actually spoken, the act of speaking will be less of a hurdle. Then you can start thinking about content - about getting your own ideas out. You'll be used to the conversational style and be able to focus on your thoughts rather than on the situation.

You should also remember that most people will not even be aware that you are uncomfortable with speaking. They will be too busy wondering if what they themselves are saying is smart or stupid, or if they missed something that's obvious to everyone else, or if they should maybe just have shut up. You just can't see it by looking at them - and neither can they, by looking at you. They will spend so much energy worrying over what impression they themselves are giving that they have very little left to spend on judging you.

6

I am working as an IT Consultant for an US-based Organization. My role is development team lead. I've been having some trouble grabbing the opportunity to talk and add my points to the discussion in formal meetings.

I have had this issue with every gig I have had to start off with. You don’t want to come off as rude or uncooperative, but you need to speak to add to the conversation.

I think the best way to overcome the fear of speaking in a group is to establish some kind of casual relationship—on some level—with meeting participants elsewhere in the office.

This doesn’t mean you have to be 100% chummy with folks, but at least make them aware of who you are. And perhaps parts of the meeting discussion will come out in these casual conversations.

The key point is, the more the group knows who you are & what you offer, the more you have a chance of getting your opinion stated. Because once you have a casual relationship with a good chunk of the participants it will be easier for you to speak up and—key point—it will be easier for others to turn to you to ask for your input during the meetings.

5

Trick learned from folk-music circles: If you have trouble breaking in (because you're not sure when you can and can't do so, because you aren't assertive enough to hold on if someone else walks over you, etc), ask a friend who's better at it if they'd break in for you upon request. "I think BVR's been trying to say something..."

Also, of course, talk to whoever's managing the meeting and ask them if they could help you make room to be heard. They can perform the same kind of interruption, either explicitly calling on you or by asking "Is there anyone we haven't heard from who'd like to add something to discussion?"

Part of this is figuring out what the local conventions are for how long to wait after someone else has finished speaking before you jump in (can be very short, in some groups), and on how insistently to keep saying your piece (or to say "hold on a moment, Fred") when someone else starts talking over you. That sort of thing is never written down and often never consciously considered, and varies very widely from community to community; in New York, for example, delays are shorter and interruption is much more acceptable than in many other parts of the country. Making folks aware that they need to make more space for the quieter participants is not at all unreasonable... but again, the best way to do that is through whoever's nominally running the meeting.

Another issue I've run into is a few individuals whose natural mode of speech is paragraphs rather than sentences. It can be hard to find a good place to interrupt them because they've always got more to say on the topic. The only solution is to (have someone) talk to them offline about not monopolizing the discussion. "Periods, not semicolons, please!"... or to go ahead and interrupt them more rudely than you'd like. Many of them aren't aware they're doing this and are correctable, or at least are willing to be told "Come to the point, please."

Another pitfall: If this is teleconferences, be aware that some speakerphones, and some conference systems, are still half-duplex -- if someone is talking, nobody can hear you. That makes the folks from the previous paragraph a particular problem because you can't easily sneak a word in edgewise. Find out whether your phone has this problem, and if necessary switch to another mode of that phone, or another phone, which doesn't.

Teleconferences may also offer another option. We've taken to running a text chat session (eg Sametimes) in parallel with the voice channel. Chats don't have the same problem of people getting blocked out by other speakers, especially if time is made periodically to review the chat log and bring those ideas back into the spoken discussion. Chats are lower-bandwidth so you probably don't want to use them exclusively... but they can be a useful equivalent of waving your hand for attention, or holding a side conversation, when you can't be in the same room as everyone else.

1

It's the responsibility of the meeting organizer to give everyone a chance to speak. Tell the meeting organizer that you didn't get a chance to speak because some individuals monopolize all of the "air time"

One obvious way to make sure that everybody gets a chance to speak is to implement Robert's Rules of Order, at least partially. I favor putting the mike in the middle of the room, and have people queue up to speak. If they want to speak again, they queue up again.

Tons of people don't say anything worthwhile in public without embarrassment. If what you say is worthwhile, they'll probably remember it. If not, they won't. No harm, no foul. If you are worried about being wrong and be called on it, join the human race. Many people were in love with their pet ideas until they voiced them and they got slapped down :)

  • “It's the responsibility of the meeting organizer to give everyone a chance to speak.” Nope. People need to interact with each other in a group situation. It is not a top down “responsibility” issue. – JakeGould May 17 '14 at 1:12
  • @JakeGould Says who? The meeting organizer gets to design/dictate the format of the meeting. If the meeting organizer says "no questions", that's it. In every group, there's always one or two loudmouths who can be counted to monopolize the air time. I got to experience this several times and each time, I had to repress the urge to throttle the guy as I couldn't place a word in during the entire meeting. And of course, he shut out everybody else who wanted to speak. (continued) – Vietnhi Phuvan May 17 '14 at 1:39
  • @JakeGould I am not thrilled with meetings whose discussion part is run on the model of the "Open Outcry" Chicago Futures Market. But even then, it's the people who run the Chicago Futures Market who dictated the "Open Outcry" rules. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 17 '14 at 1:43
  • That's fantastic. – JakeGould May 17 '14 at 2:20

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