How to speak up more in work meetings

Have you ever wondered what you could do to learn how to speak up more in work meetings? Since Covid, the number of meetings per week in the average company has gone up. So it’s more important than ever to sharpen your contribution skills.

In a recent blog, I covered some ways to give feedback in meetings.

In this blog, I’m going to give you a few suggestions how contribute more of your ideas in meetings by speaking up.

But first let me set the scene:

You know the feeling. You’re sitting in a meeting, listening carefully, intensely focussed. At the table (or in the Zoom), there are a number of native speakers, each talking rapidly. The topic changes equally rapidly, and it’s covering a spectrum of nuanced positions. You might need to translate in your head some of what you’re hearing. And at the same time, you have to figure out how to express the idea in your head. You’ve also got to come up with the right vocabulary. AND track multiple conversations at once.

Then by the time you’ve done all that, the conversation has veered off in three different directions with people from multiple teams chiming in. A lot of them are native speakers, so it’s high speed communication.

This is one of the most common scenarios that many international professionals deal with. Maybe not every day, but at some point in their career. It’s the reality of navigating in a complex multi-variable “communication environment.” An environment which demands a lot from the non-native speaker. Yet native English-speaking supervisors and co-workers  are often completely unaware of it. (This is partly because there is a cultural dimension in many cases.)

In my work, I’ve developed a number of techniques that can help international professionals contribute more in meetings.

This is one that comes up all the time in my coaching sessions:

Contributing even when you’re not 100% sure.

In addition to the challenges mentioned above, this is a big one. Many if not all of my Asian clients say that they sometimes will not speak up if they think their idea is not good enough. They will simply withhold it for fear it will seem they didn’t think it through enough. Or they haven’t done all the research yet. Or part of the design is missing.

There are tons of reasons you might decide not to speak up. 

But here’s the problem. Your team needs to hear your ideas, even the imperfect ones! A successful designer at Google, who originally came from Korea, told me once that she wished more designers from Asia would remember that the greatest innovations come from silly ideas!

You might not be able to see the value in your ‘half-baked’ brownie, but another team member might. They might be able to identify some golden thought in there that you can’t see. Let the team hear it, even if it’s not complete. This might be a cultural difference in this. But certainly in American firms hungry for innovation and creativity, you’ll advance further if you just throw the ideas out there without worrying so much. And you’ll help the team advance!

Finally, are some simple phrases that I’ve heard PM’s and other leaders use in meetings when they’re not sure their idea is 100%.

  • I am still working through this, but…..
  • I’d have to go back and check my data, but
  • I’m still thinking through this , but
  • Still working through the details on this, but….
  • I’ve gone back and forth on this, but…
  • This idea is directionally correct, but I’d have to go back and confirm…
  • This is something we’d have to look into a little more but,….

So go into your next meeting with confidence. If you’ve held back because you weren’t sure how to speak up more in work meetings, I hope this blog was helpful!







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