By Kirsten Blakemore Edwards (@KirstenBeMe), MA CPCC, Consultant at Partners In Leadership
Did you know that men do a whopping 75% of the talking during the average business meeting? Preliminary results from Partners In Leadership research confirm this finding: Women above men still struggle to find their voice in the room.
Of course, this isn't simply because men have more to say. Confidence plays a big part. Of the people we surveyed, women who were afraid to speak up during meetings said they thought they a) didn't have good ideas, b) didn't want to appear too loud or aggressive, c) didn't think on their feet, or d) were afraid of being wrong.
When a woman speaks up in the workplace, she walks a thin tightrope: asserting her views without coming across as too loud or aggressive. As a result, many women opt to stay silent rather than risk saying something wrong.
So how can professional women assert themselves, overcoming this fear and project confidence in the workplace?
1. Do Your Homework
One of the biggest hurdles that keeps women from speaking up during meetings is a fear of being wrong. Women tend to delay pitching a new idea until they feel they can produce a perfect outcome. Ultimately, it's the entire company that misses out when women are left out of the conversation -- that's why it's important for women to feel they can contribute to a meeting without the fear of being immediately shot down.
To overcome this fear of speaking out confidently when you don't have all the answers, walk into the boardroom prepared. Find a co-worker or mentor whom you trust to go over your talking points with beforehand; a little feedback and validation that you're on the right track goes a long way in boosting confidence.
2. Ease into the Conversation
If you get pulled into a meeting without the time to do any prep work, take the temperature of the room by asking questions or responding to what others have said before contributing more fully to the conversation. Coworkers' perceptions can easily lift or deter your momentum, so take your time and wait until you have something substantive to contribute rather than speaking for the sake of speaking.
3. Solicit Feedback after the Presentation
In addition to seeking feedback or advice beforehand, you should also conduct a debrief on every important meeting. Reach out to colleagues to gain a new perspective on ways to improve for the next time you walk into the boardroom. It's essential to create a feedback loop in which you're always taking suggestions and incorporating them into your preparation for the next meeting.
Finding Your Voice
You can establish your voice by taking the time to practice speaking up during smaller, lower stakes meetings or during casual debriefing sessions with colleagues. In the short run, sometimes you just have to "fake it until you make it." Put yourself out there, because the only way to make your voice heard is to actually speak up.
At the end of the day, it's important to remind yourself that not everything you say has to be perfect. Above all, take the approach that makes you feel most confident, and you'll be on your way to securing a stronger voice at the table.