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I am not the best at speaking up in meetings or sharing my ideas on the spot. How can I make sure my contributions are still heard?
You are not alone. This is an issue many people struggle with. Following are 10 tips that have helped both me and my colleagues over the years:
Flip the story around public speaking. Many people are driven by a sense of doing good. We are often better at helping others than helping ourselves. You may use this mindset to flip the story around public speaking in your head; i.e., you have been invited to this meeting because they believe you have some technical expertise to contribute or because you represent an important customer segment, e.g., Gen Z women. By speaking up, you help your organization leverage your thought leadership in designing inclusive products for all customer segments.
Consider cultural conditioning. In many families or cultures, asking a question or speaking your mind is considered rude. I knew an individual who rarely spoke up in class or in group meetings. When asked about it, they said they did not want to disrespect their elders (professors or managers). You may want to ask yourself if any cultural conditioning is holding you back from speaking up in meetings. Remember that healthy debates are how teams experience growth — as long as we debate the technology and not the individual. Discussing the pros and cons of a new solution with those around us is how we drive innovation and change in a fast-changing world of tech.
Raise your hand and ease into it. Whether you do this literally or use the raise hand feature in a virtual meeting, this method is quite effective — especially in a big meeting with a lot of people talking.
Be intentional. It is not how frequently you speak up, but your well-formed opinions that most people, especially managers and decision-makers, take note of. Quality matters!
Ask to be on the agenda. If it is a recurring meeting, there is probably still room to provide additional input. You may want to reach out to the project lead or the meeting organizer and let them know that you have some thoughts or feedback you would like to share at the next meeting. Being on the agenda means you no longer have to wait for social cues or worry about getting a word in during the meeting. You can instead focus on preparing for the next meeting. Leverage this time to properly research your opinion and, if possible, find data to back it up. It is much easier to speak up if you are confident in your opinion and if you think it is the right thing for the customer and the company.
Give feedback. You may not need to come up with new ideas at every meeting in order to contribute. Giving feedback is also an important way to contribute and generate visibility for yourself. If you agree with the presenter, it is quite straightforward. If you disagree, instead of challenging them you might say, “Can you please help me understand why you think method X is better than method Y?” With this approach, you come across as someone inviting collaboration, not conflict. Also, understanding their point of view might help you frame your opinion better.
Build your confidence through public speaking. In their book The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman report that research repeatedly shows that taking action builds confidence. Being comfortable with public speaking builds your confidence to speak up in other professional settings. This may sound scary, but you can start small. Think about giving a presentation on a project that you are working on to your closest work friends before moving on to your team or organization. Seek speaking opportunities at conferences. Leverage SWE!
Use your networking skills. People are more comfortable speaking up when they know their audience. You may not want to wait until the actual meeting to meet your audience. If the meeting invitee list is visible, consider reaching out in advance to network with others so you have already established some communication.
It is OK to follow up. While speaking up is great for visibility, it is not the end of the world if you did not get a chance to speak during a meeting. You can instead write down your thoughts and approach the project lead afterward via email or by setting up a 1:1 meeting. The project lead will likely take some time to review all the input received during the meeting before making any decisions, and that is your window of opportunity to provide additional feedback. Note that while following up is an effective alternative to a missed opportunity to speak up during a meeting, you don’t want to do it routinely — and it’s best to do so as soon as possible after a meeting.
Be authentic. Find projects you are enthusiastic about. Connect your core values with the way you do your work. Be authentic. People are often fired up about sharing ideas they feel connected to.
In conclusion, please remember that you are not alone in this. It is likely that others on your team are experiencing similar challenges. Make a pact to help one another. For instance, cue the other person in during a meeting: “I know Jane is working on a similar concept. I would like to hear her opinion on this.” You can also work together with management to help create a more inclusive environment for the entire team to contribute both in offline/written forums and roundtables where everyone gets a chance to speak. You can use technology (Slack, Discord, Webex Teams, etc.) to enable asynchronous collaboration and foster richer discussions and ensure all ideas are shared. Remember that your organization needs your help to build products for your generation. Help them and help yourself!
To learn more, please see Speak Up! How to Show Up with Presence and Communicate Your Ideas Effectively at:
Pramita Mitra, Ph.D. (she/her), a supervisor of edge software and blockchain applications at Ford Motor Co. Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan, provided the answer to this question. A professional member of SWE since 2015, she serves on the WE Local advisory board and the editorial board. She has received the WE Local New EliTE Award and 13 Patent Recognition Awards, and was named a SWE Emerging Leader in 2022.