Finding Your Voice in the Boardroom

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Being heard in the boardroom can make or break your ability to be effective at work. If you're talked over, ignored or left out of decision-making, it's a lot more challenging to enjoy complete ownership of a project or idea. Unfortunately, gender plays an undeniable factor in who is likely to get the floor.

Women experience more interruptions than men on average, and they walk a thin line between being direct and being accused of excess emotion. Still, it's possible for women to find their voice in the boardroom and be taken for the serious professionals they are. Here are five ways to start taking command of your meetings.

1. Don't Preface Your Statement with an Apology

When you have an important point to make and find your opening to bring it up, don't start by saying "I'm sorry, but...". Women have a tendency to over apologize in meetings, which may diminish your point or project less confidence in what you're saying. Similarly, don't begin sentences with "I just...", a more subtle way of apologizing for the point you're about to make. Own your knowledge and contributions by firmly stating them without using language that undermines their value.

2. Start Attending the Pre-Meeting

Women are often efficient about meetings, arriving and leaving on time to keep their time appropriately managed. On the other hand, men may linger in the conference room before meetings and hang around afterward, having casual conversations about the topic at hand that end  up being very important. Instead of passing by a group of colleagues discussing your project before the meeting starts, join in and become a regular sounding board in the casual pre-meeting.

3. Bring Data-Backed Talking Points

Come prepared with hard numbers and facts that can't be ignored. The stronger the factual basis for your position, the more likely you are to be looked toward as an authority on the subject matter. Showing up with solid talking points in hand may also give you the boost of confidence that you need to rock the meeting. Plus, presenting data helps dispel any notion someone in the room may have that women always come from a place of feeling versus reason.

4. Address Interruptions

Women are interrupted more than men, even by other women. Be prepared to deal with it in a diplomatic way that also enables you to finish your point. If someone tries to hijack your sentence, jump in with "You're going to want to hear the rest of this..." and continue. Foster relationships with other women in the room where you reinforce each other's points and if one of you gets interrupted, someone else will jump in with "I want to hear the rest of Jane's point."

5. Take Up Physical Space

Body language can also help you find your voice. Women often fold themselves up and wind up accidentally making themselves invisible. Don't hesitate to use the amount of table space that you need, sit with your arms apart, and use gestures to own your space. This makes you a more notable presence in the meeting and projects authority.

Women can find their voices in the boardroom and beyond. Between expert body language, subject matter expertise and control of the conversation, you will become a trusted force in any meeting.