Woman making speech, in front of whiteboard

Ladies, here’s how to be heard in meetings

While there is a very public battle going on to get more women on boards and into executive positions, women in businesses across all sectors, be it corporate or SMEs, are still trying to be heard and acknowledged in meetings.

The truth is, the blame cannot be put squarely at the feet of your male colleagues, as often it is how women present themselves that prevents them from having their voices heard. It can even come down to where they choose to sit at the boardroom table

Whether it’s an upcoming board meeting, a weekly staff meeting or a catch-up with an important client, consider the following tips before heading into the room and you’ll have more chance of getting your message across.

Entering with style

Take a moment before entering the room and use it to prepare yourself in four ways:

  • Physically, stand tall and confidently.
  • Vocally, prepare your voice to sound level, clear and not too high.
  • Intellectually, be switched on, know what you’re meeting about and have your ideas ready to go.
  • Emotionally, leave personal issues at the door and enter the room with calm certainty.

Preparing physically, vocally, intellectually and emotionally will help ensure you deliver the same confident message through all areas of your personal presentation. It is when your message isn’t constant across all these areas that people will start doubting your intentions.

You may not be able to stop people from making assumptions about you based on gender, age, race or even the clothes you are wearing, but you can work at changing those assumptions by being prepared in those four areas.

Why don’t you take a seat?

Where people choose to sit at a table, it says a lot about that person’s influence and position of power whether it be a board table or at a luncheon. Keeping this in mind, where do you choose to sit at the table?

Perhaps you wait until others are seated and gravitate towards people who are similar or familiar to you. Or maybe you assess who seems the most influential or powerful in a situation and pull up a seat next to them? Wherever you choose to sit, be sure it is a place where you can be involved in the conversation.

If you’re unlucky enough to get stuck at the end of the table where nothing seems to be happening, do your best to extend the conversation down your end. 

Getting a word in edgewise

The first step toward being involved in the conversation is to make sure you are present at the table. Where you sit is important but how you sit is your key to success. Are you leaning back in your chair, are your arms folded and are you just taking everyone in quietly?

Sit up, neither forward or back and be physically engaged. Make eye contact and even if at first there are some dominant characters at the other end making it difficult to join in, start by nodding along and soon enough you may have enough sets of eyes on you to be able to add something more.

What to do if it gets a little heated

Women often shy away from a heated conversation, not sure how to respond or how to regain control of the situation. The key to this is in the voice. When women get excited or annoyed, their voice will often get higher, which doesn’t do much for commanding control. There is no point in yelling however as this quickly loses effect. What can be done is a type of circuit breaker.

If a group of people are debating loudly and it’s getting a little chaotic, raise your voice momentarily to get attention and then drop it back down to your normal level to get the attention of the room without seeming out of control yourself. This is especially effective if you move or gesture at the same time as you speak.

Having a presence does not mean losing femininity

While many people associate power with masculinity, there is no need for a woman to lose her femininity just because she wants to be heard in the boardroom. Use the stronger parts of yourself, not just your strengths, to make an impact.

Get yourself noticed, get yourself heard and people will start to know who you are. You can’t be everything to every person, but you can improve your voice, your stance, your expression and your involvement to ensure you have a definite presence in any room.

Mariette will be speaking on the topic ‘Be Noticed, Be Heard, Be Clear’ at Macquarie University’s Women, Management and Work conference taking place on 12-13 July 2012. The conference will empower women to take control of their career by building on, and embracing, their full potential to become influential leaders in their field. For more information or if you would like to register your attendance click here.

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