If you’re in a leadership position, you’ve probably been trained to speak up and speak often in meetings. After all, part of a leader’s job is to help drive the conversation, right?
However, leaders who talk too much can derail the conversation—and lose credibility in the process. How to strike a balance between sharing your thoughts and allowing other voices to be heard?
If you suspect you might be a bit too talkative in meetings, try out these tips to diagnose yourself and reset how you communicate.
Ask for Feedback
Want to know how you’re communicating in meetings? Ask. Soliciting feedback is one of the simplest but most important things you can do. And feedback can be given at any time— you don’t have to wait for a 360 or performance review. Ask a trusted colleague to watch you in a meeting and share their input. Of course, you can also ask your manager to let you know how you’re doing.
When you ask for feedback, be specific and make your intention known. You can say something like, “I am trying to communicate better in meetings. Can you let me know how I’m doing? What am I doing right, and what needs work? On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate if I am talking too much?” If you’re really feeling brave, try recording yourself in a meeting and watching the playback. While this can be painful, it’s also incredibly effective.
Watch Body Language
If you don’t feel comfortable asking for specific feedback or aren’t able to, use body language as a clue to let you know if you’re speaking too much. Try this: If you’re in a virtual meeting, turn down the volume. How do other meeting participants react when you speak? Are their eyes glazed over? Do their faces look vacant? Are they physically disengaged (leaning back in their chair, looking at their nails—anything but listening to what you’re saying)? Chances are, you lost them.
Watch an Expert Communicator
Another way to improve your presence in meetings is to watch someone who communicates really, really well. Look to the person who can always sell their ideas easily. How often do they speak? How are their ideas received? Consider this your test lab. The next time you’re in a meeting with this person (provided it’s not a high-stakes meeting), do more watching than talking. Keep a log of how many times they speak, and note how they speak. Then, try some of their methods for yourself. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to shoehorn yourself into their leadership style. But by observing and noting what makes them effective, you can test their techniques and make them work for you.
Now that you have data on yourself and others, it’s time to look at solutions to help you sharpen your delivery.
Take A Breath
Feel like you might be rambling? Take a breath. Or, pause and take a sip of water. Give yourself a moment to re-align. This is one of the most straightforward, but effective, ways to reset. You’ve got brilliant ideas—don’t let them get lost in a flood of words.
Share Only One Point
Typically, I coach my clients to share three thoughts per meeting. However, if you’ve been known to overshare, try limiting yourself to just one point. Will it feel frustrating and unnatural? Yes—at first. But if your natural mode is to talk too much, you must be intentional in how you reset and move in the opposite direction. Remember, you can always send the ideas you didn’t share in a follow-up email, or call another meeting in the future. But if your goal is to talk less, resist the urge to cram every idea or point into a single meeting.
One of the easiest ways to limit your communication in meetings is to prepare your talking points beforehand. Sure, the meeting might go in a different direction than what you had planned for, but if you’re able to know the agenda ahead of time, you can at least prepare for the points you’d like to get across.
If you sense a meeting might become contentious, try writing down your points succinctly to keep yourself from talking over others. This is especially important if you need to deliver negative feedback. Preparation will help you feel relaxed going into the meeting, and help you keep yourself on message.
Leadership is tricky: On the one hand, you’re expected to speak up and share your point of view—but on the other hand, if you share too much, you risk not being taking seriously. If you tend to err on the side of over-communicating (or suspect that you might), try experimenting with these tactics to gather data and help yourself adjust accordingly.