By Ga Lok Chung, Toastmasters International

Do you wish you could make significant contributions during your meetings? Contributions that inspire others. Do you ever come out of a meeting wishing you’d said something but didn’t because you weren’t sure how? Did you say something, but found that it didn’t come out the way you wanted, it didn’t make the right impression or wasn’t taken seriously?

You may remember this scene <link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ERuhks3GNk> from the 1988 film Big. If you have a moment to watch it, please do! The movie is pure Hollywood with an outsider doing something disruptive and uncomfortable in a meeting that changes things for the better; you too can make a high impact with the help of these seven tips.

1) Tailor your contribution to the audience

When making a contribution, a common mistake is to focus on exactly what you plan to say, with little thought for the audience. Consider what the audience needs to hear, and how much they already know about the topic first. By understanding your audience and explaining your ideas in a way that connects with them, they can then experience and visualise the impact of the message.

For example, if the meeting is a budget review, and the objective is to reduce costs, you need to explain to those in the room how your idea will make a difference to outgoings and the overall budget. Make sure you are using language the audience is familiar with; if you need to use terminology or acronyms that might be unfamiliar to them, then briefly explain them so they are clear.

2) Don’t criticise the person, ask to explain the idea

Imagine, you’ve just heard something that you think is incorrect: 2 + 2 = 5

‘Idiot’, you want to shout, ‘it’s 4’. Whilst you are logically right, you should consider how you can diplomatically correct them.  Start by letting others know the value you received from the discussion, it validates the conversation and the contributions of others. It’s also rare, so people appreciate it. ‘I think I’m clear about you’re saying’, and ‘I see it differently, could you clarify it further’.

When you disagree, you should say so, as others might be thinking the same think but are afraid to point it out. It’s helpful to introduce your comments in a way that helps the other person hear your view. Whilst ‘I don’t get it’ is direct, ‘could you explain that to me again’ indicates your support, takes the notion of the person being an idiot out of conversation and, in turn, encourages a better discussion.

3) Build on what someone else has said

Quoting other people is powerful. Think about why people talk in a meeting? The answer is usually to be heard and to be understood. What do people do after they’re certain they’ve been heard and understood? Generally, they listen to the person who heard and understood them first. By building on what someone else has said, it creates a sense of continuity that makes it easier for others to follow what you are adding to the discussion. Make it a habit to take notes in a meeting. Try to paraphrase what the person said that relates to your point. Mention them by name if this point was made earlier in the discussion and include a pause in case they want to clarify. This is a really effective technique when quoting someone who is the decision maker or influential person in the room, but make sure you’re adding something substantial, otherwise constantly quoting other people can come across as brown-nosing.

4) Take a deep belly breath first

Putting your hand up to speak can be nerve-wracking, particularly when you are unsure how others will react. Taking a deep breath in your belly/abdominal area will make you sound more confident by giving strength to your voice.

To practice this: Inhale deeply through your nose and then project your voice by speaking from the diaphragm, this gives more power to your words and can eliminate any shakiness in your voice. In larger rooms, it also allows everyone to hear you.

You should also end on strong note, if you have more to say but feel like you are running out of breath, use a natural pause at the end of a sentence to take another breath and continue.

5) Watch your body language

If you’re hunched over, or speaking softly, people may not take notice of what you say or they may not take you seriously. How you position and move your body not only affects how you speak; it also affects how you come across.

When speaking, set yourself up so that:

  • You are sitting up and forward. Practice leaning in slightly and not using the chair’s backrest
  • Start with your hands on the table and then bring them up to use open hand gestures to emphasise points. In online meetings, position your camera so that people can see your hands making gestures
  • Smile and make eye contact with everyone around the table as you make your point. When online, remember to look into the camera, not at your screen

4) Replace ‘um’ with stronger filler words

When speaking in the moment, it’s hard not to say ‘uh, um, er’ while you try to gather your thoughts. Filler words are a natural part of how we communicate but can indicate a lack of confidence when speaking to a group of people in a meeting. Try to replace your filler words with stronger alternatives. When you need to gather your thoughts, use words such as ‘Now; You see; However,’ etc. The sentence, ‘Um, I was thinking…’ suddenly sounds much more definitive and powerful when slightly adjusted to ‘You see, I was thinking…’. It sounds intentional, and when people perceive you to be intentional, it instils confidence. This tip requires practice, don’t be too critical of yourself if you are still using your old filler words, even a 50% reduction will give you enormous benefits.

6) Bringing the right mindset

Making an impact is about more than what you say and how you say it – although both are important. It’s about your mentality. And nothing detracts from making an impact like undermining yourself.

Remove apologetic language like ‘I’m sorry, I might be completely wrong here.’ Tentative language may be appropriate during a brainstorming session, for example, but not when you’re trying to be perceived as decisive and an expert.

Take a moment to pause. Pauses can be golden, so don’t be afraid to use them. If you’re unsure how to answer a question, or are searching for the right words, it’s OK to pause for a bit before speaking. You can say, ‘Let me think,’ or ‘I have a suggestion,’ while you piece your thoughts together in your mind. These phrases help buy you time until you’re ready to present the ideas fizzing in your brain and they get people ready to listen to you.

Conclusion

Whether you’re responding to someone else’s presentation or answering questions after yours, you don’t have to sweat it when you want to make a contribution.  Practice with your friends, trusted colleagues or in places such as a Toastmasters clubs that provide a safe space to practise and learn.

Mastering the art of making high impact contributions is an essential career building skill. Not only does it reveal how confident, credible and composed you are, it ensures your ideas are listened to and then put into action.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ga Lok Chung is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org