How To Speak Up In Meetings

Categories: Behavior change, BMT Courses, One on One CoachingAuthor:

Do you find yourself wishing you would have said something that you didn’t after a meeting?  Here are a few tips for mustering the courage to speak up.

Make a plan

If you anticipate that a specific situation might arise, think about what you could say in advance and write it down.  If you find yourself not speaking up because you are worried about how it will come out, you can preempt that by scripting out some things you could say before the meeting.

If you get stuck, write down everything you could possibly say in response to something specific, no matter how ridiculous it might seem, and then narrow down the options to things that might work and won’t get you in too much trouble.  We call this the Response Continuum.

Break the stimulus control

When we are in the same situation over and over again, our patterns of behavior tend to become stable and we get locked in by the sameness of the situation.  This is called stimulus control – when stimuli or elements of a situation encourage the same behaviors.  If we want to do something different, we can give ourselves a little momentum by doing some easy things to make the situation feel different (and therefore alter the stimulus control in that situation).

For example, you probably do a similar routine each morning in your home, but if you stay in a hotel your routine probably changes because the situation has changed.  You can harness this knowledge by changing elements of your meeting.  For example, you could arrive extra early, sit somewhere different than your usual seat, add something to the agenda, bring a water instead of a coffee, etc.  Make the meeting feel as different as possible and before you know it you will be blurting out all kinds of new things.

Get support

Before you go to the meeting, you could talk about the potential issues that might arise with a trusted work colleague who will also be at the meeting.  If your friend is in agreement, you could ask him/her if they are willing to show support during the meeting.  This will provide you with some immediate back up and reinforcement when you express your opinion or ideas. Immediate reinforcement is often necessary to get new behaviors started.


If you rarely speak up, there is a chance the first time you do it won’t come out perfectly.  That’s okay, the fact that you actually said something means you are one step closer to being able to say the exact right thing.  You aren’t going to go from 0 to 60 in one step, this kind of thing requires shaping.

After the meeting, if there was a situation where you wished you would have said something, take a few minutes to think about what you could have said and even write those ideas down.  Over time, you will get better at formulating your responses more quickly.

One Response to How To Speak Up In Meetings

  1. Ben says:

    This is good advice! The section on stimulus control seems especially useful. As a student, I speak easily in courses that encourage or require frequent participation. In courses where student participation is infrequent and requires more assertiveness, I may unwittingly go long stretches of time without saying anything. Then I find it almost impossible to speak up! I will have to brainstorm ways to make things feel different to break that stimulus control.


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