Have you ever found yourself in a meeting with colleagues or superiors and felt as if you had nothing significant to add to the conversation? You struggle for something "smart" to say, and at the same time fear your lack of engagement is making you appear uninformed. Sadly, you are correct. 

Inc.com columnist Robin Camarote recently shared her thoughts on better communication: "We all intuitively understand that moving people, whether that's a large group or one on one, is a highly desirable skill that should be studied and practiced." If you have found yourself tentative in the past, don't beat yourself up, do something about it.
Professional communication takes planning and concentration. As an executive, it's your job to connect like a leader, whether exchanging casual small talk at the water cooler or discussing large issues in the boardroom.

Start out with five simple steps:

1.   Own your opinion.

Remaining silent or appearing wishy-washy gives people cause to doubt your level of understanding. Share your thoughts in a way that creates an opportunity to engage intelligently.

The current presidential debates are one example. It's in your best interest to be informed, even if you choose to remain neutral in a political discussion. You don't have to jump into a heated debate, simply have the pertinent facts to comment or respond.  

2.    Do a bias check.

Opinions are often based on subjective reasoning or emotional baggage from your past. There's an adage that says, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." A sophisticated leader is constantly adapting and adjusting their views as life evolves. 

Subsequently, your viewpoint is shaped by a personal or generational predisposition. If you feel as if your response to a comment is based on an assumption, ask for clarification to avoid harming your image or damaging a relationship. 

3.    Position yourself with confidence.

Twirling your hair, covering your mouth, fidgeting in your chair or using "upspeak" (raising your voice at the end of a sentence as if you are asking a question) will minimize your power. Keep your head raised, chin up and shoulders back.

Speak confidently, make eye contact with those around the room and control your breathing. Take a brief pause while contemplating the feedback you are receiving before responding.

Avoid looking down or away when someone challenges you or asks for more information. Own your space by keeping your hands above the table and unclench your fists. Projecting authority is an executive skill that can be learned.

4.    Don't apologize.

Prefacing a thought with "I'm sorry" dilutes your impact. State your opinion and then back it up with strong data. Listen respectfully and stay open to other people's perspectives. Agree to disagree if necessary, but don't become combative or lose your cool.

5.    Use your hands to make your point.

Your hands often give your feelings away. According to John B. Molidor, Ph.D., co-author of Crazy Good Interviewing and Professor of Psychiatry at Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, your gestures should mirror your words.

When meeting with colleagues, motion with open palms. Dr. Molidor explains, "It is a gesture of trust through which sincerity can flow." To show that you are in control and thoughtfully considering your next statement, he recommends gently connecting the fingertips to form a triangle, often referred to as a "steeple."  This gesture is not to be confused with wringing your hands or anxiously twisting your fingers.

Whether your communication is work-related or conducted in a social setting, intelligently contributing to a conversation is a valuable leadership skill.