How to Get Heard in a Meeting Full of Men


Column by Janine Popick, "Women in Business"
August 2008

There you are, one of two women in a meeting room full of men, or perhaps in a loud bar one woman among four other men -- trying, trying hard to get a word in edgewise.

You try to speak, but Mike won’t stop talking. He’s got to get to the end of his sentence because he started one. He’s got a goal, and it’s to put the period at the end of the entire paragraph. You’ve got no chance.

A moment of silence occurs and you jump on it, only to have Bill start speaking over you, like you don’t even exist. You even start to speak louder to attempt to compete, only to lose, because Bill started his crescendo. You had no chance.

What can I say, Men? You like your points to be heard; don’t argue. In so many meetings you’ll talk over others (men and women) and raise your voices so that your point is heard loudest.
Years ago, I was being interviewed for a job. I went to the office of the start-up and they plopped me in the middle of a FIVE man semicircle. One would fire a question at me, and before I could answer another would answer it. If I was lucky enough to get an answer in edgewise, an extraordinarily loud conversation would ensue with each one talking over -- and louder than -- the other.

I ended up getting the job (a wonderful job), but was put in these situations on a daily basis. How could I possibly ever be heard? How could my voice rise above it all?
Here are a few tricks I learned -- and still use to this day -- to get a group’s attention and make my own ideas heard:

  • Wait until what would seem like the end of the conversation (read: guys yelling over each other) and say, “Is it my turn to weigh in?” This commanded a moment of silence where they HAD to let me speak since they were all out of words and I was being polite.
  • I raised my hand. No lie. You’ll be amazed at what a good old-fashioned 5th grade raising of your hand will get you. You almost stop the conversation and someone will direct everyone’s attention to you because again, you’re actually being polite.
  • I spilled water on the table and while I was cleaning it up, I spoke my mind! That was probably the most desperate.
  • I screamed “SHUT UP!”, then made a joke out of it: “The people from upstairs just called, they want their ear drums back.”

If none of this works, bring a bull-horn into the meeting with you. Then when the decibel levels rise, bring it out and join the conversation!

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