Ever tried to speak at an important meeting, conference, or strategy session only to find that a few dominant participants continually box you out?

My wife is taking a French class monopolized by men. She can't get a word in edgewise.

Last week, when it happened again, she went "bossy" on them. In a louder voice--to capture attention--she talked over them, saying something in French that completely changed the subject.

They tried to cut her off but she ignored them. And she says she's prepared to do it again until the men get a taste of their own medicine.

I don't believe the men are doing this on purpose. Men compete with one another, and in this case, the men were also vying for the attention of an instructor.

While it's true that in certain industries gender may have a lot to do with who gets boxed out of the conversation, this kind of thing can happen to anyone. If you're in a meeting with no rules of order--a meeting with lots of competitive, powerful people--here are 11 tactics to help you get a word in edgewise.

1. Do your homework.  

Figure out what you're expected to say, plan what you want to say, and practice saying it.

2. Ask questions.  

Any old question. It's a way to warm yourself up, get your voice heard, and demonstrate that you are a player.

3. Listen.  

That is, really listen to what people are saying, so that your questions help them clarify their thinking.

4. Don't be shy.  

You don't have to be an expert in a field to ask useful questions. In fact, someone with an outsider's perspective can ask, "Why do you do it that way?" and open up a whole new world of innovative thinking.

5. Trust yourself.  

If you feel your heart pounding, recognize that fear is misplaced attention. The alpha speakers act as if it's their right to hold forth. You have a right to be heard too.

6. Earn your keep.  

You not only have a right to speak up, you have an obligation. You're being paid to think and communicate your thoughts. People wonder why you're at the meeting if you don't say anything.

7. Dare to be dull.  

What you say doesn't have to be earth-shattering. State the obvious. If it hasn't been said, it may not be obvious to everyone. But if you think it's obvious and important, you add value by saying it. Get out of the impressing business.

8. Add information.  

You don't have to find something to disagree with to assert yourself. You can agree and expand on another's point.

9. Draw attention to yourself.  

To get the floor, signal with with your face and body language that you want a turn to talk. Lean forward. Raise your hand as if calling for a waiter. You may have to wait for two or three people to finish their discussion.

10. State a headline.  

Compose a strong opening sentence, something like a dramatic headline. Then state your opinion as fact. For instance, "Continuous improvement is better than postponed perfection," you might say. "Let's launch and learn."

11. Back yourself up.  

Then give them one overwhelming reason why. "The market stuck with Jobs and Gates when they released bug-ridden vaporware. They'll do the same for us. Let's launch and learn."

Once you've got the floor, they won't interrupt you, and you'll have your say--as long as you maintain your crisp reasoning, assertive eye contact, and vocal authority.

Don't be afraid to be bossy. Women, you may think you're getting too close to the other B* word, but don't let that fear be your stumbling block. Go for it.

Published on: May 14, 2014
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