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Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace?

Last week I was talking to the Executive Director of a non-profit organization who expressed frustration at some of her board members.

She told me, “They sit quietly in the board meeting, rarely participating, then email me a day or two later with their ideas. No way! It’s too late! That’s why we have meetings!”

Speak now! Or forever hold your peace?

I took a breath and contemplated how I could respond in a way that made her think differently.

So I asked her, “Did you know not everyone is comfortable speaking up right away? Some folks need time to reflect and think before they share their ideas.”

She looked at me confused and said, “Really? I didn’t know that.”

Have you ever lead a meeting or given a presentation and struggled to get the group to answer your questions?

It can feel awkward, frustrating or throw you off your game.

Just this week I shared presentation techniques with a group of business owners and professionals and was asked, “How do I deal with the awkward silence that happens when I ask the audience a question but they don’t respond?”

So what can you do?

I use this activity during my own programs and I share this with clients. It works to give everyone a voice.

Whether you’re a presenter who wants audience engagement or a leader looking for feedback from your team, consider the following.

  • First, give each person time, on their own, to reflect and write down a few thoughts. Time this for a minute or two. And let folks know you’re timing them. Give them a 30 second notice to start wrapping up if needed.
  • Next, have people pair up to share ideas and build excitement. Time this for 2 – 3 minutes
  • Finally, ask for a few volunteers to share ideas to the big group.

On Managing Groups

Be aware of different communication styles. Not everyone is comfortable speaking up right away. How can you create an environment where all voices are heard?

Make sure you know how to manage a group. If you do small group breakouts have a plan for bringing people back to the larger group. Clapping hands, ringing a bell, playing music are all reasonable. Find something that works for you and your group and remember to let them know what to listen for.

Invite folks (if time allows) to follow up after the meeting or presentation by phone or email with their ideas. Give a deadline if needed.

The Bottom Line

I don’t know if that Executive Director will change her ways. Here is what I do know. Everyone has ideas worth hearing. Avoid frustration and awkward moments by becoming more aware of different communication styles and thinking about different ways to encourage folks to participate and have all voices heard.

Now it’s your turn. Talk to me!

  1. Do you get frustrated with the quiet people?
  2. Be honest…
  3. How do you increase engagement and participation when you’re presenting or facilitating?

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Insights for leaders who are tired of formal protocols stifling their personality and ideas.

Here we get at the heart of what it means to "be yourself" in any business setting.

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