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Want people to pay attention? Lean in—physically.

“Lean in” is a phrase made popular by Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same name.

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is that they feel it is often hard to get their point across or be heard in a meeting. The good news is that there are simple, effective techniques that you can use. Your body language and movement, the vocabulary you use and the amount you contribute will all help to get attention, add value and make a positive impression.

Improve Your Physical Presence

Another trick is to sit forward on the front edge of your seat with your right foot forward and the left foot under the front of the chair. Your hands should be on the table and available for gesture as you make your points. Make steady eye contact with people at the table and smile.

If you ever have the opportunity to stand, perhaps to make your point on a whiteboard or highlight part of a slide, you become the focal point as you hold the floor. Standing can also be helpful when you’re on a conference call.  If you’re alone in your office and want to make a point try standing—it helps. Overall, paying attention to your physical presence to ensure it is assertive can make a big difference.

Use Memorable Vocabulary

The words you choose can help you get heard and make an impact.  If you want to add to something that someone has said, start your response with “Yes, AND…”   or “I agree with George AND…”  “That’s an excellent point AND…”  Try to avoid “but,” which can feel like you’re negating or dismissing what the previous speaker had to say.

Work on increasing the power of your verbs (action words). If you use weak verbs, it can underplay your efforts and results. Rather than saying “we looked into option A…” you can say “the team examined 3 options”. Verbs like execute, implement, generate, fulfill, advance and create are clearer and more memorable. Check out this list of other high-impact verbs on the Harvard Law school website

Vocabulary should be specific and precise. To promote clarity, rather than saying “We completed most of the action items” say: “We completed 84% of the action items.” Rather than “many opportunities” say “16 discrete opportunities”; rather than “significantly more new accounts” say “15,000 new accounts.”

Take this test with a friend to see how different your reference point is for these sentences:

  1. I finished my taxes early this year.  (When did you finish?)
  2. I got into work early today. (What time?)
  3. Her boss is an older woman. (How old?)
  4. I was modestly successful on my diet this year. (How much weight did you lose?)
  5. My mechanic says this will take a while. (How long?)

Contribute Something Every Time

Even if you don’t have an earth-shattering idea for your next meeting or if you’re surrounded by people who have views on EVERYTHING, you can still contribute to the party. In fact, if you want to be part of a high-performing team it is important that you do contribute even if in a small way. In his book Social Physics, Alex Pentland looks at where good ideas come from and how they are spread. He finds that high-performing groups work best when everyone contributes equally and those contributions are short.

So, if you want to be heard, start adding short contributions to your next meeting.  These can be agreement with a point of view, asking for further information or clarification or offering a different point of view.  If you aren’t able to think on your feet, do some homework and come prepared with observations, specifics, examples or updates that you can add to the mix.

These are all small, easy-to-achieve changes to your communications but each in its own right can help to you be heard.

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