Lately, we have been fielding a lot of questions such as, “How do I speak up in a virtual meeting? My colleagues and I are constantly interrupting each other, and it’s embarrassing when we do it in front of our clients.”
This is one of the most common challenges in virtual meetings. How do you know when someone is done speaking or if a connection issue just froze their screen for a minute? Conversely, what if the speaker is droning on and on and you have another meeting that starts in 5 minutes with no buffer time? I tackled this issue for in-person meetings a few years ago in an article for the Harvard Business Review, How to speak up in a meeting and when to hold back.
Here are 5 ways to speak up in a way that makes your virtual meetings run more smoothly:
1. Before the meeting, ask the facilitator to acknowledge you during the meeting
Virtual meetings of 5 people or more must have a facilitator. At the beginning of the meeting, the facilitator can provide guidance on how participants can speak up: simply jump in and speak (not recommended), use the “Raise Hand” feature, type a question in the chatbox, etc. If you know you’d like to speak in the meeting, let the facilitator know in advance so they can acknowledge you at the right time.
2. Coordinate group presentations in advance
With your teammates, decide in advance who is speaking and in which order, and how you will manage the transition from one speaker to the next. This has always been important during in-person meetings, but in a virtual setting, it’s essential to present a cohesive team.
3. Privately chat the facilitator or meeting host when you’d like to speak
In person, we could catch the eye of the facilitator, but that can be a challenge in a virtual setting. If you don’t want to interrupt the flow of the meeting, send a private message to the person running the meeting. Then, the facilitator can seamlessly find a way to bring you in.
4. Use a filler word as a strategic wedge to jump into the conversation
In a 2019 article for the Harvard Business Review, I discussed when filler words like “um” and “ah” can actually be useful. Using a strategic filler like “actually” or “well” in a virtual meeting helps you verbally interject, which then highlights your video, and gives people advanced notice that you are going to contribute. If you know you will interrupt someone, use the 5th option below.
5. Compliment and build
My favorite technique for in-person interventions still applies here. If you must interrupt, compliment the person speaking by saying something like, “Thanks for that great point, Steve, I’d like to build on that” – then take the point in whichever direction you’d like. It maintains the current speaker’s credibility while giving you the space to jump in. You can also decisively say, “I’m going to take the risk of interrupting Steve here but I want to build on his point by saying…”
Virtual meetings will be standard practice going forward, even when it’s safe for us all to convene in conference rooms once again. When we feel confident speaking up in a virtual setting, we can get our work done more effectively and, by ensuring our voice is heard, feel better about our contributions.
Try this in your next meeting and let us know how it goes!