- Make eye contact around the room so they know you’re engaged and looking for something.
- You might catch the eye of someone who gives you an encouraging look. That usually means he may be willing to back you up (provided you don’t make a jerk of yourself).
- Gently shake your head - as in frustration (as opposed to anger).
- Scribble on a notepad in front of you so it looks like you’re making notes on the subject. One such time, I simply wrote over and over again, “I wish you’d let me speak,” like a kid in elementary school who got in trouble and had to write something on the board 100 times.
- If all that doesn’t work, you can also try letting out an audible sigh, as if you can’t believe what is going on. However, use caution with this one. It might seem too obvious and be looked on as an obvious cry for attention and viewed as an annoyance and unwelcome interruption to the meeting.
- When you are acknowledged, don’t falter. Don’t stammer, and don’t act surprised. Say what is on your mind, clearly and distinctly. Have it planned in your head before you open your mouth. It would help if you’ve planned ahead of time and written notes or even exactly what it is you want to say. Present it well, with definitive thought. This may be your one chance to make an impression and prove yourself as a valuable contributor to the team.
- If you do start to stammer, stumble, or ramble on, trying to organize the words as they leave your mouth, you may very well blow your chance at being heard and getting your points across.
- Keep it short and to the point.
Dodging the Bullet
If what you’re going to say is controversial or unpopular, stick to the facts and try not to include your feelings, emotions, or opinions. Stick to your script that hopefully you were able to practice before the big day.
If these tips don’t work, try to get a hold of some of the meeting participants one on one, in a relaxed setting where you can present your ideas in a short “elevator speech.” They may give you feedback and constructive criticism. They may even ask you to speak up next time.
Another key to success is timing. This is a difficult one to predict. Being the first or last to speak on a topic can be difficult and prove less memorable than those who lead a discussion and are able to bring up points or insights into the subject at hand. Those who speak last run the risk of beating a dead horse. Those who speak first can generally start a discussion or debate and then be lost in the momentum.
Who Cares What You Think?
To be realistic, some of your superiors simply do not care what you think or what you have to say. If that is the case, tread lightly. A few short replies to questions or throwing out some tidbits or teasers within a discussion may prove to be a good way to break the ice and prove that you do, in fact, have a good handle on the discussion and valuable insight.
However, know when to say when and when to live to fight another day. Some of these uphill battles are won simply by being patient and watching for an opening or when the momentum is right. Like Yogi Berra said, “You can learn a lot by listening.” After the meeting or situation is over, critique it like you would any fire or emergency. Think about what went well and what didn’t. Almost every meeting has an ebb and flow. In fact, many meetings are almost predictable in how they are going to play out. Recognize the flow of the situation so you can learn when the best times to interject are or when a good time is to attempt to steer the conversation.
Driving the Train Off The Tracks
Lastly, if it’s going to cost you your job or make you look bad, think twice before jumping on that grenade. You may let off steam, make your point, etc., but you may also use up your one coupon to even be invited back to the next meeting. Many well-meaning fire officers have blurted out something (or worse, went on a tirade) and were never given another chance.
At a recent meeting I attended, a member with a chip on his shoulder wanted to throw another member out of the fire company. He had a valid point to go ahead with this action against the other member, but this person who brought it up had a history and tumultuous past with the other person. When he brought up the subject, he couldn’t help but let his obvious distain for the offending member come out. Everyone saw through it. And, when it was time to vote, some people voted against taking action on the offender simply based on the way it was presented - as a personal, vindictive action. The member who brought up the charges was extremely upset and couldn’t see that by opening his mouth he led the failure charge.
A Time To Sow, A Time To Heal
Planting a seed rather than a bomb may work to your advantage. Give just a little piece of insight, that you know something about the matter, without full disclosure. This may get the higher ups to come back to you for more information or a clarification on what you threw out there.
Be careful to not always give away all your golden nuggets; you may need them for another day. Keep the other meeting participants wanting to know more. Attempt to entice them with your knowledge, experience, or research on the given subject. Leave them with some unanswered questions that will hopefully get you asked back to the next meeting, and the next, and the next.
Be cautious on what you wish for. These other participants may be so intrigued with you (or not) that they may ship you to Boogie land, where you’ll rot like a tomato on the equator.