5 Tips for Confidently Speaking Up at Meetings

By Kaitlin Madden, CareerBuilder Writer:

The way you present yourself in company meetings can have a big impact on your career.

If you take the role of passive onlooker, for example, and never offer an opinion or comment, you may be giving off the impression that you’re not sure what’s going on — or that you just don’t care.

At the same time, if you speak up every chance you get, dominating everything to from the department budget meeting to the planning session for the holiday party, your colleagues may end up thinking that you’re overbearing — or that you just like to hear yourself talk.

Whether you’re the shy type who usually opts not to speak up — or you’re just the opposite — here are a five expert tips on making your point effectively in front of a crowd.

1. Practice: Like anything, practice makes perfect when it comes to speaking up — especially if you’re shy.

One way shy people can gain confidence to speak in meetings is to practice outside of meetings,” says Susan Newman, co-founder of School2Life, an organization that helps students transition to the workforce. “Share your point of view and participate in conversations in and out of the workplace. Doing this helps you recognize where the discomfort sets in. In time, it will get easier or more manageable because you’ll know what to expect from your nerves. So speak up and speak often.”

One of the best ways to get practice outside of the workplace is to join your local chapter of ToastMasters, a group specifically designed for helping people to improve their public speaking skills. The organization currently has more than 12,500 chapters globally, so chances are there’s one in your area.

2. Get to the point: When you speak at meetings, concentrate on making your point as succinctly as possible. This will help your message come across clearly and will help you avoid the title of “company blowhard.”

For those that tend to be on the verbose side, try thinking about your message in Twitter terms, says Joey Price, founder of career consulting firm Push Consultant Group, LLC. “[Ask yourself]: is your message potent and concise enough to fit into 140 characters or less? If not, you may be rambling on. Trim and enhance.”

That said; If you must make a longer point, set yourself up to keep the floor until you finish, advises Dianna Booher, author of “Communicate with Confidence” and “Speak with Confidence.” This will let your peers know that you’re making a multi-faceted point, and not just going on and on.

“If you fear that someone will interrupt you before you finish, preface your ideas with something like, ‘I have four observations to make about the situation. First …, ‘and then keep enumerating as you go along so that people understand you’re not finished when you take a breath,” Booher says.

3. Belly breathe: Public speaking can be nerve-wracking, but you don’t have to let it show. Abdominal breathing will make you sound confident by giving strength to your voice.

To use this technique: “Inhale deeply and then project your voice by speaking from the diaphragm,” says Jean Palmer Heck, president of Real Impact, Inc. “This is essential for those who are shy, because it gives more power to your words and persona and can eliminate any shakiness in your voice.”

4. Pay attention to your body language: “I know it sounds obvious, but if you’re hunched over, or speaking softly, it’s unlikely people are going to take what you say seriously,” says Frances Cole Jones, author of “The Wow Factor: the 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today’s Business World.”

Her top tips for in-meeting body language:

  • Sit up and forward
  • Keep your hands on the table (We trust people when we can see their hands)
  • Lean in
  • Smile

5. Learn from others: A great way to figure out how to become an effective speaker is by watching those who do it well. Pay attention to colleagues who seem to captivate their audience, and what it is that makes them so poignant.

“There are always colleagues that I’ve worked with from my current or past business interactions whom I have admired for their ability to confidently share their opinions, and listen and accept the viewpoints of others, without monopolizing the conversation or sounding like wind bags,” says Dianne Shaddock, principal of EasySmallBusinessHR.com.

“I study their presentation, the tone and volume levels of their voice, as well as the reactions of others in the room to what the individual has to say. I then incorporate their best qualities and make them my own. I’ve found that this works quite well and has helped with my confidence level at meetings,” she says.

Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow @CBForJobSeekers on Twitter.

  • Make eye contact with everyone around the table