Are you increasingly staying silent during big meetings, only unmuting yourself just to say, ‘Thanks everyone!’ as the meeting ends? Or, on the flip side- Do you find yourself trying to contribute only you wind up accidentally interrupting or overtalking others?
Meetings dynamics can be weird, especially over Zoom. Big meetings have a way of bringing back that awkward high school feeling of posturing, trying to be one of the cool kids. They can trigger our workplace insecurities.
Yet, big meetings are also a time that spotlights who is valuable to an organization, who has their finger on the pulse, and most importantly, who consistently delivers. If you’re not contributing, it shows. Don’t fool yourself into thinking people don’t notice.
Knowing when and how to contribute can feel like a tricky dance when you’re not in charge of running the meeting. You want to talk, but you don’t want to dominate. You want to propel the discussion, but you also want the meeting to end on time. You want to show that you’re valuable to your boss, but not look like a show-off in front of your peers.
Here are three tips to help strike the balance:
Meetings always benefit from someone asking the right questions. Think quality, not quantity here. Questions like: ‘What effect will this have on our customers? Who will be responsible for this? What’s a reasonable timeline?’ move the meeting forward, adding insight and action. It’s not your job to grill everyone or raise all the potential pitfalls, but simply to put forth an effort to ensure the meeting is comprehensive and actionable. Ask in a collaborative tone and then listen. And the more you listen, the better questions you will be able to ask.
Contribute in advance of the actual meeting.
If a big meeting is on your calendar, consider how you can contribute in advance. This doesn’t necessarily have to be asking for a formal spot on the agenda. Sometimes, that’s not feasible. Instead, get creative. You can forward a piece of topic-relevant research to the person running the meeting, or perhaps offer to support the meeting if the organizer needs someone to run breakout rooms, capture the next steps, or corral unanswered questions.
If you’re unsure how you could help, ask for the agenda before the meeting to jumpstart your thinking. What’s going to be covered? What are the ideal outcomes? Who else is attending? Side note- if the person who called the meeting can’t answer those questions, you’ll likely jumpstart some more thoughtful planning on their part (and the whole group will benefit from that).
Narrow in on action steps.
Early in my career, when I was trying to up my informal leadership game, I would always jump in quickly to speak up at meetings. Over time, I learned there is great value in speaking last. After a long meeting, it can be challenging to wrap up. To add value, you can offer a few themes from the meeting and report your own, or your team’s, action items. Say something like, “For me the two biggest takeaways are, we need to prioritize x and Y.” If the meeting is very large, you can post this summary in the chat. Don’t be surprised if the organizer reads your comments aloud as a helpful summary (I say that as a meeting organizer, who has read aloud insightful chat comments a zillion times)
Not all meetings need to be a snooze fest. Even if you’re an informal leader, you have the opportunity to set the tone. If you’re prepared, focused, and action-oriented, meetings can be hugely productive and leave you looking great.