Until you are used to them, group meetings (internal or with clients) can feel somewhat intimidating. You may be surrounded by older/louder/stronger voices that tend to dominate conversations and allow little opportunity for you to contribute your thoughts and ideas.
You may be new to the agency, a naturally quiet person, nervous about talking in front of a group, or just starting out in account management. Perhaps you have tried to contribute in meetings, but you have been "shot down" by bigger voices, or by someone contradicting what you said - or maybe you were ignored altogether.
Account managers who have a voice are recognised and promoted more quickly than those who work in the background and keep their opinions to themselves. If you can prove that you are confident, curious and pro-active, and would like to be earmarked as a future leader, then meetings are the perfect forum to demonstrate your abilities - especially if your manager is present.
You may not have been in the industry as long as your colleagues, but you are an intelligent, thinking person who may have a fresh take on the matter at hand, or see things that others have overlooked. Age and experience do not have an automatic right to the best or most complete ideas.
You have been asked to attend the meeting for a reason, that means that someone has decided that you have something to offer the group (or that it will be a good learning opportunity for you). If you are not sure why you are there, ask your manager or the person who invited you so that you know where your contribution would be best made. Whatever the reason, you are there because you are wanted and valued, so feel confident in that.
Asking questions shows that you are interested in the people attending, what they have to say, or the topic being discussed. Asking questions is also a great way to have a voice, even if you don't yet feel you have a solid idea or viewpoint to contribute. Just remember not to ask too many questions, as that may interrupt the flow of the meeting or appear annoying.
It can be less intimidating to support the ideas of others rather than give a fresh idea yourself. For example, if someone says something that you agree with, you can start by acknowledging that person's comment, say that you agree with them, and then build on that comment with your own contribution. Once you become confident about supporting the ideas of others, you will feel less nervous about putting your own ideas forward.
Slouching in your chair, or dropping your head, is no way to get noticed or heard. Having a good posture makes a positive impression, and it will show that you are alert and respectful of the others at the meeting table. Leaning forward when you speak (or even as you are listening) is another way of showing your engagement and confidence.
Speaking early on in the meeting breaks the ice and should help you to feel more relaxed. The longer you wait to say something, the more nervous you will likely feel, and the greater the risk of someone else saying what you were hoping to say. Speaking early shows that you are most definitely present, that you have come to the meeting to be a participant, and that you are someone who should be listened to.
If you can, get yourself included on the agenda so that you are guaranteed an opportunity to speak. If this isn't possible, let the group know – in advance – that you have something that you want to share. This should at least create some interest that may earn you attention in the meeting.
When you speak, never belittle or undermine your contribution by your words, your tone or your body language. For example, avoid starting with apologetic language such as "I'm sorry, but...", or dismissing language such as "I just wanted to say...". This will immediately make you look weak and unsure of yourself. Start strongly and proudly with "I'd like to say..." or "Can I add...?" Don't forget to finish as strongly as you started.
Disagreeing is an effective way of having your voice heard. However, if you do disagree, it will be vital to choose the right words. For example, saying "I disagree" can come across as confrontational and annoying, whereas "I wonder if we may also consider..." or "I agree in part, but I have some doubts about...." shows that you respect the other person's decision at the same time as offering your own viewpoint.
If part of your job is to drive the agenda and keep the meeting on track, then you need to speak up. It's important to make sure that folks do not go off on a "rabbit trail" - otherwise you'll be the one who will be held accountable if the meeting goes over time, or if there are points not covered. Saying something like "So, shall we summarise the action points of that last agenda item?" should do that trick. Another great way to show your meeting leadership is to invite contributions from everyone, so that no one leaves without speaking.
Meetings are an important vehicle for increasing your visibility, enhancing your career prospects and boosting your confidence. It's vital for you to overcome nerves and learn how to make the most of this opportunity.
Be a considerate and generous listener and contributor. Become comfortable sharing your ideas and knowledge. Ask great questions and show your enthusiasm, and watch the nerves start to melt away!