Have you ever left a meeting feeling that you dominated the whole thing — and not in a good way? You talked a lot, and in the end, you felt that nobody else had enough time to speak. This is a bad dynamic for several reasons. People don’t want to attend meetings that are just an opportunity for one person to deliver a monologue. And with one person taking up the airspace in a meeting, team members no longer feels that they’re working together.

What can you do to help ensure that you are not the only one talking in meetings? The obvious answer is to talk less, but that’s often easier said than done. And if other people are not used to speaking much in meetings, the absence of your voice could create a void that nobody fills. Here are a few things you can try.

Make notes and stick to them. Few people adequately prepare what they are going to say. But preparation is just as important for a meeting as it is for a public speech. Whether you are leading the meeting, are kicking it off, or have a significant speaking part, prepare your remarks. Give yourself a time limit (say, three minutes), and try to condense what you have to say into that amount of time. You might even practice in your office to make sure you stay under your allotted time.

Don’t stop there, though. If the agenda for the meeting is posted in advance, make a few notes about what you will say about the points that you know are going to be raised. And resist the urge to comment on every point. Find the one or two places where your input and expertise are most valuable. Put a reminder in your notes to keep quiet otherwise.

If a new topic comes up at the meeting, ask yourself whether your opinion is really necessary. If it is, sketch out a few points on a notepad, and stick to them when it’s your turn to speak.

It can be hard to stop yourself once you get started. If you’re afraid that you will run on despite your best intentions, ask a colleague to give you a signal if your remarks go on too long.

Prepare people in advance. Of course, you should make sure that other people in the meeting also contribute. That means that whenever you are running a meeting, you need to have a clear agenda ahead of time. You can’t expect that everyone will come up with something to say on-the-fly or that their initial thoughts are what everyone needs to hear.

Instead, send the agenda around in advance, and then try to pop in on some of the people whose opinions you want to get, especially those who often don’t contribute. Let them know that you are hoping they will speak up at the meeting. Once a few people start talking, there’s a good chance others will jump in.

Even if you’re not running the meeting, you can solicit the opinions of a few people ahead of time. Tell them that you are curious about what they think about the agenda items and that you hope to hear from them. That way, you’re giving people the time to think through what they want to say.

Use a round-robin format. In the movie 12 Angry Men, Juror 8 (the lone dissenter) wants to get the jury talking in order to forestall them from reaching a quick verdict (since — spoiler alert — everyone else thinks the defendant is guilty). Juror 8 asks that everyone share their opinion on why the defendant is guilty. In this way, he elicits key opinions from the other jurors.

Even if someone’s life doesn’t hang in the balance, this round-robin format can be a good way to ensure that many people have a chance to express their opinions. You can give people the option of passing on their turn, but at least you are allowing everyone a chance to lend their voice.

There are many people who don’t like to be the center of attention, even at a fairly small meeting, so they won’t chime in even if they have something valuable to say. In a round-robin, attention is given to people by the structure of the meeting — not from being called on — so the pressure is off.

Dominating a meeting, especially when you’re the senior person in the room, is both rude and often counterproductive. It’s also a hard habit to break. But if you better prepare and take steps to ensure others contribute, you can make the meeting one people want to attend, instead of dread.

Author: Art Markman (PHD)

Source: Harvard Business Review

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