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To speak or not to speak? How to wow in work meetings

When you’ve just landed your first professional job – or an internship in your dream industry – you’ll want to make a great impression.

In those early days, as you’re still learning everyone’s names and adjusting to full-time employment, there’s at least three strategies that will never go out of style: working hard, turning up on time and looking the part.

Then there’s the slightly trickier prospect of meetings. How do you know when to pipe up, what to say and when it’s more appropriate to sit back and shut up?

‘In a meeting, there’s always politics and power plays happening, and if you’re new and you’ve got less work experience, that can be a little bit overwhelming,’ says Dr Andrea North-Samardzic, a lecturer in Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law.

Then there’s the fact that younger generations are often battling against preconceived – if unfounded – notions that they want to go too far, too fast, she says.

Why it’s important to speak up

While it’s natural to feel nervous in meetings and be afraid of saying the wrong thing, there’s definitely a danger in saying nothing at all.

‘People think that you don’t have expertise, or that you’re not interested,’ Dr North-Samardzic says.

If you are aspiring to a more senior position, she says speaking up is a sign of confidence. And when you’re acting confidently, the chances of being tapped on the shoulder for a more senior position down the track also increase.

But for starters, it’s important to just show you’re keen.

‘If there are opportunities to speak up when there’s things like brainstorming, and you do have an idea, not making a contribution when everyone else is looks like you might not be pulling your weight in the team,’ Dr North-Samardzic warms.

Know your worth

While you may still be the junior burger at your new company or organisation, don’t forget you’ve got fresh perspectives to bring to the table.

‘Let’s say for example you’re in a marketing or advertising role,’ Dr North-Samardzic says. ‘Younger demographics are what you’re targeting, you’re representative of that – so people should be looking towards you to give that perspective of what it’s like to be a younger person.’

Being just out of university, you may have also been exposed to new ideas, approaches and research that your colleagues haven’t.

How to prepare for a meeting

If meetings at your new workplace come with an agenda, spend some time reading it (and any appendices or files attached) beforehand.

‘If you’ve read the agenda, you can see what topics are going ahead of time, and who’s responsible for what topics. You can even go and meet with the person beforehand,’ Dr North-Samardzic says.

Save relevant articles and bring them along.

‘If you’re talking about a new strategy or a new approach, find our what your competitors are doing and bring that information.’

'If there are opportunities to speak up when there’s things like brainstorming, and you do have an idea, not making a contribution when everyone else is looks like you might not be pulling your weight in the team'

Andrea North-Samardzic,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

When you’re in the meeting

If you want to play it safe at first, ease yourself in.

‘If you haven’t spoken in a meeting, you do want to show that you are participating,’ Dr North-Samardzic says.

‘So even if your first step is agreeing with someone else, then it’s asking someone a question, then it’s proffering your own idea. Go at your own pace; build up your confidence at a pace that you’re comfortable with.’

You could also choose to be generally helpful, by offering to scribe and share the notes around afterwards, or by just pouring your colleagues some water.

‘This may be a stupid question…’ and other things to avoid

Use small strategies to appear as professional as possible. So instead of saying ‘this may be a stupid question but…’ you might preface your comment or question with something like: ‘just so I understood clearly’ or ‘I may have missed this but…’

While someone more senior might be throwing around swear words or getting into heated arguments, it’s best to opt for professionalism when you’re still trying to impress.

And if you don’t really know what you’re talking about, perhaps sit this one out, advises Dr North-Samardzic.

If it is an area that you honestly don’t know something about, don’t pretend you do because you’ll get caught out – maybe not in that meeting but at some point down the line. People say ‘fake it ‘til you make it’, but don’t fake expertise.’

Other things to avoid: excessive fidgeting and playing with your phone.

Rookie rules

While there’s nothing wrong with being the youngster on the team, sometimes you may want to spin it in a different way.

‘Particularly in Australia, university education is highly prized, but if you bring up something that you learnt at uni, people tend to often discard it as, ‘oh you got that from a textbook’,’ Dr North-Samardzic says.

So rather than quoting a textbook, perhaps just present your thoughts as a general idea. A fresh and valuable one at that.

Want to up your efficiency and impress your new boss? Read on.

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Dr Andrea North-Samardzic
Dr Andrea North-Samardzic

Lecturer, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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