Every time you find yourself in a meeting at the office, you have two choices: stand out or fade into the background. While it may seem safer to simply listen and occasionally nod your head, that’s not a promising long-term strategy. If you want to make a positive impression on your colleagues and advance your career, standing out is the only real choice.
“It’s important to control your story and how people view you,” said Robyn McLeod, a leadership consultant.
McLeod is a principal with Chatsworth Consulting Group in New York and a leadership coach for a variety of organizations. She considers herself an introvert and knows standing out doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
“We tend to worry about whether we are going to look stupid, or be embarrassed, or maybe we’re wrong,” she said. “It’s those worries that hold us back.”
So how do you put your best foot forward? These tips will help you make the most of your next gathering with colleagues around the conference room table:
1. Get to know your co-workers before meetings.
It’s much easier to speak up around people you already know and feel comfortable with.
“Practice being a more social person at work,” McLeod said. “Meet someone new at the office. Go up to their desk and say hello.”
It’s obviously a good idea to get to know people you will meet with regularly. But McLeod also recommends talking to people all around your workplace as a way to get used to speaking up and making your presence known.
“The more you’re able to deal with people in a casual setting, the easier it will be in a more formal setting,” she said.
2. Be prepared.
Study the agenda ahead of time. Give the issues under discussion some thought before going into the meeting. If you are unfamiliar with any of the issues, do your homework. If you have relevant statistics or documentation, bring copies for everyone. If you know you will have information to contribute, prepare a few talking points. If you have questions, write them down.
“If you’re stuck on something, then state that in the meeting,” said Joy Lizotte, CPA, a growth planner and business coach in Lake City, Fla. “You need to come [to the meeting] with answers. If you have an issue, who can help you with that issue? Think about what will be discussed in advance instead of walking in cold and unprepared.”
3. Don’t speak until you have something to say.
While introverts may hesitate to speak up in a meeting, extroverts often have the opposite problem.
“So many people are just talking to talk,” Lizotte said. “Think about the input you’re giving: Is that going to make a difference in the outcome of the meeting? Will it help in some way?”
McLeod recommends a mnemonic device to keep tongues in check.
“There’s a great acronym that I use for my coaching clients who are talkative, and it’s ‘WAIT,’” she said. “It stands for ‘why am I talking?’ And it really does work well, because it helps them to remember that there are times when it is better to not talk, and sometimes I’m just talking because it’s my habit. Whereas it’s much more powerful to not talk and hear what the other person has to say.”
Eddie Huffman is a Burlington, N.C.-based freelance writer.