I wish I would have said something in a meeting while sitting across from a blabbering mouth that didn’t know when to stop flapping. Instead, I missed speaking up at the meeting intelligently because I was preoccupied with why I was even there. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to come up with a clever one-liner that would set the world straight.
Meetings—everyone has them. Some people like them; others despise them. Some are short, some are long, some are productive, and some are a drain on the brain of everyone in attendance. Many people don’t recognize they have a meeting problem until it is too late.
Gatherings of individuals to plot, plan and discuss common issues are nothing new. Ever since Adam and Eve held a meeting to decide what to do next, meetings have been a part of our lives. Hundreds of articles have been written about how to have better, more productive meetings, but most misdiagnose the silent epidemic. The real problem with meetings isn’t that they aren’t productive or valuable. The real problem is that not everyone present participates.
Speaking Up at Meetings
A recent Forbes article states, “Your voice defines the value you bring to the organization. When you silence that voice, you minimize your value to the organization.” There are many reasons people stay quiet in meetings. Silence is safe, you don’t have to worry about sounding like an idiot with a misplaced comment or “hair brained” idea. A lack of self confidence remains safely hidden behind a quiet smile and an unassuming gaze.
I have sat in meetings and wondered if I could add value or if what I was thinking would sound idiotic coming out of my mouth. Then, as I leave the meeting, I lament the fact that things didn’t go the way I wanted or that the meeting was unproductive. Upon closer examination, I realized that the problem was mine, and that I alone, am responsible for adding value to the things in which I participate.
The Participation Factor
As I left a recent meeting I overheard two people discussing what a waste of time the meeting was. They claimed it didn’t pertain to them and much of the discussion was off topic. Interestingly, neither one of the complainers spoke up once during the meeting to bring it back on track or question the relevance of the discussion to their department.
When participating in meetings, especially in smaller groups, remember that moderation is key. No one appreciates a know-it-all, a one-upper or an endless storyteller. What is appreciated are those who offer valid and consistent thoughts or ideas that are succinct and relevant.Someone valued you enough to include you, so why de-value that opinion by remaining quiet? The trick to participating in meetings is finding balance between silence and domination. Remember, you were invited, so there is an expectation for you to add value. Value comes in many forms ranging from a dissenting opinion or a radical idea to a voice of reason. There is as much value in a question as there is in an opinion or an idea, but if the thought is never expressed, its value is lost.
If you want to add value, be prepared. I am guilty of showing up at meetings without a clue as to what will be discussed. By the time I catch up (assuming I do catch up), I haven’t had enough time to process the information and make an intelligent contribution. These are usually the meetings I consider unproductive and a waste of time. At a recent meeting, everyone came prepared and a great discussion ensued. The best part was that the meeting ended thirty minutes early with everything on the agenda accomplished.
You add value to meetings by being concise, relevant, prepared and willing to share. Go ahead, speak up and let your voice be heard. You can’t make a dent in the universe if you don’t say anything and you can’t complain when your silence supports a plan with which you disagree. Remember, “I told you so,” only counts when you do the telling in the first place.