A toolbox to get your voice heard
Introvert: a typically reserved or quiet person who tends to be introspective and more comfortable with a small group of people.
This November, Lea , Lana  and myself went to the Women of Silicon Roundabout conference. There were a few talks around developing your soft skills to be better in the world of tech. One talk that particularly interested me was about “How to get heard in meetings”.
Within a couple of minutes of starting the talk, the “c-word” was mentioned. Confidence seems to always be the key; it’s never about being awkward and uncomfortable, for some reason.
I listened to that talk and I felt a bit confused about how different my experience was. I don’t think that statistically women are more introverted than men, but we do tend to be less confident, which means it can be difficult to put ideas forward and feel heard, especially in a group.
In my old career, I was one of two women in our senior management team, and getting heard could be quite difficult. I have had (I think) a successful career as a scientist. I have always found ways to be heard, but always by being true to my introverted nature. So I figured I’d put together my “How to be heard in meetings” toolkit for introverts.
Tool 1 – Communicate with your team
I might be stating the obvious here, but it’s something not everyone thinks about doing.
I find it really awkward to be vocal in a group, especially a large one. One of the first things I do when I join a team is make someone aware in the team that this is the case. Mentioning it to your manager (in a one-to-one, for example) is something that comes naturally. I also found that how I work and share ideas is something that comes up naturally in conversation between colleagues.
Speaking to your team about this serves two purposes. First, they are aware that you need time to process information before making a decision and that you’re not just being quiet because you’re not listening.
The second is that people are more likely to ask you for your opinion. If it’s clear to people that speaking in a large group is not natural to you, they will make the effort to ask for your ideas when having a conversation.
Tool 2 – Prepare what you want to say
I always find I need time to think things through before I can formulate an idea. I try to prepare what I want to say, whether it is for a meeting or a presentation.
To prepare for a meeting, I usually go through the agenda, prepare questions in advance for points which are a bit more obscure to me and do a bit of research if I don’t know enough to ask questions.
If I’m talking, I take my time by speaking slowly. I also find visual aids a real help. If I don’t have a presentation prepared, I try to have something I can draw on. It really helps me put my thoughts together in a way that’s clearer for me and for the people I am talking to.
I find that it’s key to take notes if I don’t have enough time to put everything together and think through what is being talked about. This gives me something to look back on to formulate opinions after the meeting.
Once the meeting is over, I find it useful to take five minutes to summarise what was said and take note of any actions. Then if necessary after the meeting, when I have had time to put my thoughts together, I can have more productive one-on-one conversations.
Tool 3 – Ask questions
Sometimes it’s difficult to find the opportunity to say what I want to say and, more importantly, when I need to say it.
When I’m in a meeting with many people, each already discussing their own ideas, it’s sometimes difficult to get heard, especially with some more extroverted or chatty counterparts. My way of contributing to a conversation is often to ask questions. I’m curious by nature and I’m never short of them!
Asking questions will help the people in your meeting think about their ideas differently and may get them on the same train of thought that led you to your idea. I usually find it easier to get my point across when I present my ideas as a question, such as:
- Have you thought about doing something this way?
- Is there a reason why you wouldn’t consider this?
Ultimately, if I feel too much out of my comfort zone, there’s nothing wrong with discussing something after a meeting or a presentation is over! An idea is always going to sound better if I’m not incredibly awkward when I present it.
Tool 4 – Embrace your strengths
If you’re anything like me, you probably have everything written down. Often after a presentation, a meeting or a pairing session I’ll put my notes together. This helps me think over what was discussed again but I also find it reassuring to have something to go back to. I have found that if it’s useful to me to get back to some note I have written, it will be useful for someone else. Use your notes to write “how-to” guides which can be shared with others, to write comments and ask questions.
In a group, I find I will always observe more than I will participate. I never realised how much of a strength it was until quite late in my career. I find that I can pick up on different intonation of voice, as well as team dynamics and sometimes emotions. This is particularly useful when trying to make a decision or when talking about a sensitive issue.
I often have ideas for implementing processes (some weirder than others 😄) for solving a particular problem or just to try to do something more efficiently. As it turns out, this creativity is one of the strengths of being an introvert. I have put in place many processes throughout my career as a scientist, not all of them successful. But putting in place something you believe will work is the first step to making a process successful. It’s the best way to get everyone’s input through trial and error. Most of us learn by doing.
Tool 5 – Be yourself
It’s a lot easier to convey a message if you’re comfortable. People will listen to you and, more importantly, take you seriously. Sharing ideas is about sharing why you believe they are good, and no one will do this better than you.
Find a way you feel better when presenting:
- Do you prefer to stand or sit?
- Do you need visual aids?
- Do you feel more comfortable remotely?
I also never go anywhere without a cup or a water bottle. That’s my anchor: if things get too overwhelming or I need to take time to think, I can have a drink.
In the end, people will hear what you are saying a lot better if you behave like yourself than if you try to appear confident and follow a lot of tips that feel really unnatural to you.
I have a vivid memory of watching a presentation where in theory to be heard you had to make an entrance and look everyone directly in the eye. I still laugh thinking about what my “entrance” would look like.