One of my mentors, who I still call on for advice, shared with me her approach to meetings. I was relaying that info to someone today and it dawned on me, I’d never shared this great advice more broadly.
I think many of us take 1 of 2 paths in a meeting. We speak all the time or we say nothing. Those who say nothing, of course, are given the horrible label of “wallflower.” [sarcasm font] Wallflowers of course aren’t leaders [/sarcasm font]. The other end of that spectrum are people who talk all the time; they yearn to hear their voice heard. Well, at least that seems to be the prevailing thought.
So with that said, as I was entering a point in my career where I was routinely finding myself in meetings with the C-suite, my mentor shared with me her philosophy for when to talk in a meeting:
Speak First: If you’re the first to speak in a meeting, you set the tone, frame up the context of the meeting, outline what’s to be discussed and the decisions that need to be made. As the first person to speak, all other commentary will have to pivot off of your opening remarks. This is a great role when you’re the sponsor of an initiative, but not responsible for overall completion of the initiative or the tasks required to complete it.
Speak When You’ll Own: When you’re responsible for key parts of an initiatives, you need to fight for your fair share of the resources, budget, scope, timing, support and more. You need to both pick your spots and speak in a tone and octave that enables you to explain risks clearly and the reasons you need what you need. Also, since you’re responsible for the “task” it’s critical to make sure people understand you have that responsibility. Equally as important is making sure you understand what’s being asked of you and what scope changes are becoming your responsibility.
Speak Last: The last word is undervalued. The recency effect is very powerful in large organizations. As the person who speaks last you can sum up the key points (which are almost always captured flawlessly by scribes), outline the next steps, assign responsibilities, express satisfaction/dissatisfaction and more. The tone you set when you speak last, often sticks and it’s remembered. The “speak last” approach is something reserved for the person who owns the responsibility for the overall initiative.
It should go without saying, but obviously speak when you’re asked a question too.
I didn’t get this advice til a bit later on in my career. It’s something I’ve been working on for the past year and have tried to lean in to since I returned to Walgreens. Try it out.