How to be a Confident Woman in Meetings starts with one key thing - getting your timing right when you contribute.
Read to the end and I’ll also share how the perfectionist in you, will only get in your way.
I gave this tip about timing to a senior associate at a law firm and within just a few weeks people were commenting on she was holding herself like a ‘Partner’ - which worked out for her as 6 months later, she was invited to Partnership!
She went from clamming up in meetings to feeling so much confidence that she often was asked for advice by the junior associates who now saw her as someone to emulate.
First - let’s start with a secret.
The key thing to realise, about how to get more confident in meetings...
There is no such thing as a ‘perfect comment’. Perfection lies in the eye of the beholder, what you say versus what they are expecting you to say.
So just say something.
You will never have a message that’s perfect for everyone in the room, so don’t wait before presenting.
My tip for more confidence is to speak up EARLY in a meeting to reduce any pressure you feel to contribute the ‘perfect comment’ before the meeting ends.
So I’m about to get scientific on you. Researchers found that in looking at discussion groups of men and women, women regulated how much they spoke, taking up less time largely to not appear dominating. I can see this in my work, where women do a subconscious mental calculation in meetings. The assumption is that ‘if there are five people in this meeting, I shouldn’t speak more than 20% of the time’.
They’re then completely surprised or annoyed when someone else ‘takes up’ half the time, particularly if it adds nothing of substance - or is another woman who they expect should know the rules.
When I was writing ‘The Con Job’, Sasha Mooney, a Barrister at Law, also saw a difference in how women displayed their competence differently even in the first few minutes of a meeting. She told me:
“Women will have heads down taking notes. I’ve done this too, so know they want to ask well-considered questions with the facts recorded to make their case. Men are more likely to pipe up as and when thoughts occur to them, interrupting when they see fit. You can almost see them thinking things through as they’re talking.”
In my experience, most women do most of their thinking before speaking. Mooney’s advice? ‘Put your pencil down and start making points or asking questions in the first 10 minutes of a meeting. Waiting until you have it all figured out is too late!’
This challenge totally resonates for many of the women I coach. In my experience, non-status quo members (you can find out more in the book) assume crucial decisions will be made at the end of the meeting. Not surprisingly, they leave confused or frustrated if it seems the decision was already made, maybe even before the meeting started. So get your points in early, because waiting for the ‘perfect and most insightful of comments’ won’t serve you.
In fact, when observing these meetings, those who are ‘in the know’ can resent these ‘difficult’ people for asking detailed questions later on the day. To the status quo, the results were already decided either ahead of time or in the first few minutes, because they read the room and could predict the outcome.
This topic is EXACTLY why I’ve written my third book - The Con Job!
Which is about how we need to stop assuming the outwardly very confident are the ones who should be making all the decisions - instead we need to better value those with skills, relevant experiences and competencies.
Keep up to date with the activity around the book by following #morecompetence on Twitter and Instagram.
Share it with your friends and colleagues too - you won’t be the only one feeling this way.
Suzanne Doyle-Morris, Author, Speaker & Gender Balance Expert for 25+ years.
Hear what I told BBC Radio about what to do about the worsening gender pay gap data