Use Preparatory Language to Get Heard in Meetings

speak up May 08, 2024

TLDR: Use preparatory language to increase your chances of being heard and gaining the respect you deserve. Preparatory language is a comment made before the important comment. It is designed to draw attention to you so that you have gained attention before making your important point.

"I am unheard in meetings. The men especially talk over me, interrupt or restate - minutes later - the very point I made."

This is one of the most common complaints that I hear from women - especially those who work on predominantly male teams. And while this blog won't solve the problem, I am going to give you tips for how to deal with it.

The Problem

There are two reasons why the blog won't solve the problem.

  1. The first is that the mindsets of men  make it less likely for them to listen to us can't be addressed by us at all. They have to be dealt with by the men themselves.
  2. The second is, if you historically haven't had anything of value to share, or don't in the moment have anything of value to share, even these tips will make it difficult for you to be heard, which is why of course I make a pitch for you to develop your business financial and strategic acumen.

So let's assume that your suggestions and ideas in the past and in the present are worthy of attention.

A most valuable tip that I can share with you about increasing your chances of being heard, is to use what a mentor of mine called preparatory language. And here's why.

The Value of Preparatory Language

A husband and wife research team at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that when men are in boring meetings, their minds turn much more frequently (than do women's) to what I call the battlefield or the bedroom. Men are having thoughts about aggression or sex, which means that they aren't even listening when we pop into a conversation, especially one that hasn't grabbed their rapt attention, and spill our brilliant comment right away.

instead, we need to use preparatory language to grab their attention before we add our brilliance to the conversation.

Men are pretty skilled at doing this. You'll hear them make comments like,

  • "As we all know."
  • "As I've said in prior meetings."
  • "People generally agree."

These are examples of preparatory language. They say nothing, but they grab attention to the speaker.

So preparatory language is a comment made before the important comment. It is designed to draw attention to you before you make your comment.

One of the most brilliant practitioners of this that I've ever known, not only uses preparatory language, but she personalizes them. Here are some examples that you can try out yourself.

Preparatory Language in Action

Let's say your colleague Rakesh made an important point a few minutes ago, and you want to amplify it and add to it. So you could say something like,

"I think the comment that Rakesh made a few minutes ago was important to our discussion. I want to add to what he said, and this is especially of interest to you, Jack."

You've not only taken the floor and drawn attention to you, but you have positively engaged, both Rakesh and Jack.

Let's say you have a different viewpoint from Lars. You might use preparatory language like this.

"Speaking of the impact on our expense goals for this quarter, I have a slightly different take from what Lars said. So let me explain how my broader idea about how to meet our expense targets.

If you're uncomfortable calling out the fact that you have a different point of view than Lars, you could say to the meeting leader - let's assume his name is Salvi.

"Salvi, I would like to cycle back to an earlier point about hitting our expense targets for the quarter. I have three suggestions that haven't been made yet." And then you lay out the three.

In each case, the point is to draw attention to you and to do that by making a connection with at least one other person in the conversation.

Let's Recap

  1. Women are less likely to be heard in meetings for a host of reasons. One of them might be because we haven't had much value to add in the past due to our lack of business savvy. Another is that the mindsets of men make them less inclined to think we have anything to say and less inclined to listen for what value we might add.
  2. A way to overcome this is to use preparatory language to draw attention to you before you contribute your brilliance to the discussion. And to do that by making personal connections with people who are in the conversation.

What's a Woman to Do?

One thing I would suggest before you go out and give this a try is to pay attention to how some of the other people in meetings with you use preparatory language. You're looking for comments such as the ones I've already mentioned and others like:

  • "As you already know."
  • "As people generally agree."
  • "As I've said in past meetings."
  • "It's common knowledge that..."
  • "Experts would say."
  • Etc.

Once you see that it's part of the culture to use preparatory language (and generally it is) then go ahead and try it yourself. Make sure that you are comfortable drawing attention to the point you're about to make, and that you have something of value to add to the conversation.

Catch you next time.


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