How many times have you sat through an entire meeting and not spoken a single word? It’s pretty boring, isn’t it? I know some people would rather not participate because they don’t think their ideas are important enough or they feel anxious if they speak up. They’d rather wait for someone else to take the lead. But I think it’s actually very important to share your thoughts because it will change the way people perceive you. This is true at work, in your social groups, your volunteer organizations, and even in your family.

Imagine the people you know who speak up often in groups. Now think about the ones who don’t say anything. Do you view them differently? People who speak up are generally seen as more involved and will be more memorable to the people in charge when it’s time to give out promotions or raises or new opportunities. And you’ll feel more invested in a project if you had a voice in it, won’t you? I really think this is a skill worth developing so that you can feel empowered to share your thoughts and get more involved in the meetings that take place in your life. Here are some of the things I do that help me.

Strategies for jumping in

Get in Line

Do you have trouble jumping into a conversation? I know it can be challenging, especially if you’re an introvert or English is your second language. The first thing to do is establish that you want to speak, right? The most common way to do it is to just start talking as soon as someone else finishes a thought. Now, you can’t hesitate at all, or someone else may jump in first. You’ll need to be a bit assertive too because if you’re quiet, you may not be heard and acknowledged. This is especially true if you don’t speak up often because no one will be expecting you to contribute. We want to change those expectations!

Don’t worry if you try this and someone else starts talking at the same time or if the original speaker has more to say. Your job is just to get the attention of the group so they realize that you want to speak. You can still defer to someone else if needed, but this move allows you to “get in line” for your turn in the conversation. If the other speakers are polite, they’ll give you a turn once you establish that you want one. If this strategy feels uncomfortable, think about how you jump in when playing a game and try to use the same mindset.

Body Language

I find that using gestures and body language can be very helpful too. If you feel too rude interrupting or talking over someone, another strategy is to use your body language to indicate that you have something to say. A quick hand gesture or facial expression directed at the person speaking can let them know that you want to comment. I like to use a combination of raised eyebrows with a quick wave. You probably know people that speak up often, so watch what they do and try to emulate their approaches until you find one that’s comfortable for you.

Useful Phrases

Try these to help you jump in:

  • Oh, I agree…
  • I have an idea about that…
  • Here’s a thought…
  • But don’t you think…
  • My concern with that is…
  • Have you considered…
  • What about…
  • Hang on a second…
  • I’m confused…
  • Quick question…

Talking through it

Don’t miss the moment

I think sometimes it can be intimidating to share your thoughts if you don’t know exactly what you want to say. It feels safer to wait until we have a whole script written in our minds. The problem with this approach is that by the time we feel confident about what we want to say, the moment is long gone. Everyone has moved to another topic or someone has already mentioned what we wanted to add. If you’ve heard the saying “better late than never,” this is the opposite situation. It’s better to share a quick, imperfect thought than to miss your chance and say nothing at all.

Start simple

In a spontaneous discussion, no one expects you to have a long, organized, and structured speech prepared. It’s ok to just throw out an idea or share your initial impressions about the topic. You don’t want to start rambling, but a little thinking out loud and processing is ok. I’ve been in many meetings where someone just shared their first impressions or ideas, and then others contributed and eventually we solved the problem together through discussion. You don’t have to have all the answers to be helpful. Just contribute something and maybe you’ll inspire someone else.

Useful phrases

Here are some ways to introduce incomplete thoughts:

  • My first impression is…
  • My initial response is…
  • I’m just thinking aloud here…
  • I’m just brainstorming here…
  • My first question is…
  • My gut feeling is…
  • It feels/I’m feeling ___ but I’m not sure why…
  • It seems ___ to me and I’m trying to figure out why…
  • My impulse is to say…
  • Does anyone else feel like…

Sharing criticisms

Give your audience an out

It can be even harder to share your thoughts if your comment is a criticism. Most of the time, I try to leave the person I’m criticizing some wiggle room or some kind of out. (Unless I’m trying to win an argument. 😉) It feels less confrontational and lets them save face. Let’s use a very simple example in which someone has suggested ordering chocolate candy as a meeting snack. If I don’t think it’s a good idea, I could say “You’ve probably considered this, but my concern is that chocolate could be a very messy option.” I’m expressing my criticism while still giving the other person a chance to defend their idea.

Give the pros and cons

Another approach that I sometimes use is to frame your comment as though you are just pointing out both sides, or “playing the devil’s advocate.” You can do this by listing a few pros first, and that opens the door for you to also share some cons. For instance, “Chocolate is a truly delicious and versatile dessert, but it can be very messy and difficult to transport.” You could also frame it as an agree/disagree comment. “I agree that chocolate would be a delicious choice, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea in a room with white carpet.”

Useful Phrases

These are some ways to begin polite criticism:

  • Have you considered…
  • Have you thought about…
  • You’ve probably tried this…
  • Would it be possible to…
  • Maybe it’s just me, but…
  • It occurs to me that…
  • … Just a thought.
  • The problem I see is…
  • Perhaps it would be better to…
  • What worries me is…

More important than all of these strategies is the belief that your contribution matters. Before any of these tips will work, you need to value your ideas and opinions enough to take the risk of sharing them in the group. If you can share your thoughts confidently, the others in your group will see you as more of a leader and an invested, active participant who wants to make a difference. Doesn’t that sound better than staying silent?

Do you have questions about how you can jump in and share your thoughts? Just ask! If you’d like to learn more about effective speaking strategies, you can subscribe to my newsletter. You’ll get my free email mini-course as a bonus!

Image credit goes to Monkey Business at Adobe Stock

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