Do you break out in a cold sweat when someone looks your way in a meeting? Do you feel like everyone in the room is more articulate and better prepared than you are? Do clients seem uncomfortable in one-on-one situations with you? Well my friend—you are not alone. Let’s look at some ways you can go from struggling with conversation to the master of the conversation. It’s not hard, once you understand why you do what you do.
Recent research reported by Yale University shows that women speak up in meetings less frequently than men. Another study by the Virginia Tech’s Carilion Research Institute revealed that high IQ people of both genders speak up less than their lower IQ counterparts. (So if you give everyone the silent treatment, maybe you really are the smartest person in the room!)
But let’s not stop there. Do we accept these findings as gospel and take a vow of silence or do we learn how and when to speak up effectively? When it comes to communicating with your clients and colleagues, you probably fall into one of four categories: you either are a spectator, a contributor, a driver, or a leader.
A spectator generally stands back and watches what’s happening. He or she seldom takes initiative, doesn’t introduce new ideas, and generally remains invisible.
A contributor participates once in a while, but only in situations that feel safe, places where he or she is well known.
A driver looks for opportunities to speak out and has no reservations about introducing new ideas or making comments and recommendations. In some cases, the driver can become overconfident, be too outspoken and even offend others with unsolicited remarks.
Although we probably find ourselves in any or all of these categories at certain times and situations, the leader is where we should strive to spend the majority of our talk time. Coming from the leader perspective involves developing some specific skills and techniques that can boost our communication skills and raise our profiles with co-workers and clients alike. Here are ten steps you can take right now.
- Get a pal. Join forces with someone who is more outgoing than you are and let them take the lead temporarily, especially in a new situation. A pal can introduce you and keep the conversation moving, or bring up one of your key points in a client meeting and then toss the ball to you.
- Lay the groundwork. If you’re going into a meeting, talk to the person in charge beforehand. Mention that you have an idea you want to discuss and ask for an opportunity to present it. Explain your point of view.
- Be prepared. When you’re meeting with a client, know what you want to say, role play your talking points in advance and bring notes. This will keep you from being distracted by what someone else might say and wondering how you should respond.
- Speak up first. Don’t let the fear of looking foolish or being criticized stop you. You may not know everything about the issues at hand but you know something. Put it out there. You’ll be perceived as more competent than your peers when you speak first.
- Stop being perfect. There’s no one right answer to any question or problem. If you wait for the perfect opening, the brilliant insight—you may wait a long time. Instead, put your idea out there and let others build on it. Everyone will benefit, and you’ll be the player who started the drive.
- Don’t be an editor. There’s being prepared, and then there’s being over prepared. If you are constantly rethinking and refining your thoughts in an effort to get it exactly right, you’ll never say a word.
- Question intelligently. Asking questions doesn’t make you look dumb—it makes you look smart. If you’ve been quietly listening all this time, you probably have plenty of ideas about what’s being discussed. Take notes and then turn those ideas into questions. Avoid “I don’t understand” questions that make you look weak. Instead, go for “That’s interesting. Tell me more.” Others will start to see you as an active participant rather than a bystander.
- Showcase your expertise. You have talents and skills that no one else has. Look for opportunities to step into the spotlight and leverage what you have to offer. If you’re negotiating for a new listing, talk confidently about similar properties you’ve sold successfully. If you’re presenting an offer, have the facts and figures to back up your position.
- Take a break. If you are in a tense situation, push the reset button, just like you would if your computer froze up. Go get some coffee or take a walk. Clear your head and rejoin the conversation with a smile and a new perspective.
- Check your calendar. Now that you have some tools at your disposal, look at your calendar for the week ahead. What are some opportunities you might have to speak out? A client meeting? A networking event? A closing? Think of one talking point for each event and be ready to speak up. Your career will thank you.
Now it’s your turn, can you utilize one of these ideas to become a more effective communicator?