Many people are comfortable during one-on-one interactions, but when a few people are in the room, they don’t know what to say. One thing that holds people back from contributing is the belief that the only reason to speak up during a meeting is to say something new that hasn’t already been said. This view holds that a meeting is only about WHAT is being said, not HOW it’s being discussed. Here are some techniques to overcome this natural reticence, thanks to Keynote Speaker, Carol Lempert.
Paraphrase
Summarize back to the group something someone else has said. This reinforces the key message you think is important in the meeting. It also helps everyone remember what’s being discussed. Research shows it takes a minimum of three and as many as eight times to hear a message before it sticks. You can be the reinforcer by helping others remember what is important.
Endorse
Compliment something someone else just said. This helps to build good relationships, especially with the individual who has spoken first. At the same time, it builds your brand. It lets the group know that you are someone who notices and acknowledges others.
“(Name of colleague), I hadn’t thought about it quite that way before, what a great perspective. Thanks for sharing that.”
Scaffold
Take the best thing that is going on in the discussion and build on it. Again, the goal of this is to reinforce a key message you think is important.
“I really like the idea of X. Perhaps we can expand it by adding Y too.”
Get In Early
Many people find that if they speak within the first five minutes of a meeting it’s easier to contribute later on. If they settle into listening mode too soon they find it difficult to get going. Challenge yourself to say something—anything—within the first few minutes of the meeting. This will break the ice and help you feel more comfortable when you DO actually have something to say!
It also reminds your colleagues that you’re there. If you attend too many meetings without contributing anything, you become invisible. And that’s not good for your personal brand at all. If speaking up is an area of development for you, challenge yourself to try one of these approaches at your next meeting.
“I never know how to answer the question: So, what do you do?”

Lots of people have a hard time figuring out how to talk about themselves. They fear that what they do for a living will either be uninteresting – or too complicated – to explain to others.

There are three elements to crafting a good networking introduction. I think of it as a formula:
Your Role + The problem you are helping your customers solve + something personal = the answer to:
“So what do you do?”
Here are some prompts for deciding what personal element you can include in your next networking speech:
  • What I love most about my job is _______ because _______.
  • Even though I’m a _______, I think about my job like a _______ (Architect, Psychiatrist, Firefighter, Football coach, Painter etc…) because _______.
  • When I was a kid I was good at _______, so it’s not surprising I went into _______.
“I have a hard time with small talk. I never know what to say.”
This concern is thematically linked to the one above. People put pressure on themselves to be smart and pithy when they are meeting a stranger for the first time. This misses the point of small talk, which is to get to know someone so that a relationship might develop. The best way to get to know someone is to learn to ask good questions; questions that will prompt an interesting conversation.
An easy way to start is to ask a question about the most obvious thing you have in common.
  • How did you get into doing what you’re currently doing?
  • I travel a lot for work, what’s the best thing you’ve found to deal with jetlag?
  • This is my first time in (name of city), what’s your favorite thing to do here? Cool, why?
It’s important to share your point of view and experiences too. Otherwise, the conversation will start to feel like an interrogation. One way to do that is to front load your question by disclosing something personal about yourself.
Note the distinction between personal and private. One of the reasons some people have a hard time with small talk is that they confuse these two categories. Things that are too private might make a stranger feel uncomfortable upon a first meeting.
The point of small talk is not about you having something brilliant to say, it’s about connecting with the person standing in right front of you, so they’ll want to reconnect with you again in the future.