How to Be Heard When You Aren’t the Loudest Voice in the Room

We’ve all been there: the staff meeting that seems to go on forever with co-workers arguing the finer points of copy paper weight while you struggle to gain their attention long enough to discuss a crucial new budget item.

Even this extrovert can have a hard time getting heard in group situations when faced with railroaders and professional complainers. But introverts can have a particularly difficult time getting their points of view across in meetings and conversations. That’s because they don’t like to interrupt and don’t excel at thinking on their feet, says Nancy Ancowitz, business communication coach and author of Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead.

Here are some tips for being heard in group discussions, whether your voice is literally the quietest in the room or you just have a hard time speaking up in meetings:

Buy yourself time

Answering difficult questions on the spot can be tough for introverts, who typically need time to reflect before jumping in with an answer. So, come up with a “filler” answer that will give you some time to gather your thoughts, advises Ancowitz. For example, you can say, “That’s a great question. No one has ever asked me that. My initial thoughts are XYZ. If you’d like to know more, I’d be happy to do a little research and get back to you by the end of the day.”

Make yourself heard

As uncomfortable as it can feel, getting heard at a meeting can require you to get a little more aggressive than you’re used to. “Audibly clear your throat, put up your index finger, make eye contact with a key person at the meeting, say their name, and lean in to get their attention,” suggests Ancowitz.

And try to get acquainted with the fine art of interrupting. “In certain work environments, it’s the norm, and it’s otherwise impossible to get heard,” she explains. “Start by saying something positive, like, ‘Yes, Sandy. I’d like to add that…’”

If a louder, more aggressive approach doesn’t work, Ancowitz suggests taking the opposite tack and talking more quietly. It can sometimes get more attention than speaking in a raised voice and seems to “cut through” the din of a noisy meeting.

Come prepared

Having your discussion points on the agenda—and giving them a few practice runs before the meeting—can ensure you’ll have the time, space, and confidence to speak your piece. You can also enlist the support of sympathetic co-workers ahead of time and recommend ground rules, such as “one voice at a time,” to the facilitator, suggests Ancowitz.

Or consider going a step further and taking on the role of facilitator. “That position often gives you the authority to set the agenda, manage the flow of the conversation, and interject to bring the conversation back on track when it goes off course,” says Ancowitz.

Get (a little) louder

Sometimes you might feel like the quietest person in the room because you actually are the quietest person in the room! You might simply have a quieter voice that doesn’t carry well or stand out in a room full of louder people.

While you may not be able to (or want to!) go from being soft-spoken to a total loudmouth, there are steps you can take to “make your voice heard”—not just figuratively but literally. Standing up straight and breathing from your diaphragm—the muscle that supports your lungs—can help, but that’s hard to do when you’re nervous and your breathing is shallow and quick. One simple but effective breathing exercise that can help is to take a controlled breath where the exhale is a beat or two longer than the inhale. This can help calm your fight-or-flight response and make it easier to speak clearly and confidently.

Even if your voice isn’t booming, it helps if you can enunciate clearly and speak slowly. “I recently had a meeting in which the most quiet person commanded the room. She presented herself as if she had something to say: she spoke clearly, emphasized key words, took her time and paused occasionally, had good posture, and made eye contact, at turns, with each participant. Others at the meeting leaned in to listen,” says Ancowitz.

Let’s face it, meetings might never become your favorite part of your work day. But by taking a proactive—and slightly more assertive—stance, you can at least make them a little less painful. And maybe, once you start taking charge, you can also help keep those meetings moving along to make them shorter. I’d second that motion!

Share your thoughts.

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  • Dan Cass

    My career took off in my early 30s. I had long tried being polite without career success until I realized I could reciprocate my rude co-workers style of interruption. I just learned to be far more effective at it.

    Famous for leaving practically any meeting, boss or not, without an agenda, I’d usually wait until the decibel levels fed by interruption got too painful before asking for the missing agenda. When told there wasn’t one, I’d slowly pack my materials, sliding my chair back before saying, “Come get me when you have a structure to work from”. I was far too busy to listen to incessant small talk masquerading as ‘politically correct’ brain storming or team-building. Usually decisions in those meetings were little more than talking points, opinions and hopes with little chance of success because the next meeting would change everything again.

    If I stayed in a meeting long enough and while making a comment was interrupted I learned to coldly and bluntly say, “I’m not done speaking” or “Let me know when you’re going to quit interrupting me”. If my voice wasn’t heard, I’d simply stand up in a room of seated people patiently waiting until the interrupter noticed and awkwardly returned the floor to me. If I were interrupted at the white board, I’d silently hold the dry marker out towards my interrupter implying him to come draw his point on the board with me. Usually that would shut him up as his opinion, usually a sentence full of measureless adjectives, couldn’t be drawn in the clear logic of nouns and verbs. If I were interrupted too many times on conference calls and my physical strategies became ineffective, I’d wait until asked a question or for comment. My answer of prolonged silence was usually met with, “Are you on mute”, where I’d finally replay, “No, I’m just tired of being interrupted”.

    My initial discomfort of verbal confrontation dramatically changed when many co-workers began approaching me after meetings, thanking me for confronting the interrupters and getting the meetings and projects back on track. When I understood this, my interruptions became a source to help the group. If it matters to anyone, I’m a member of the double top secret INTJ clan, a CIO and author.

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  • George Andrus

    I guess it is just practice and getting a thicker skin. If only it were that easy you may say. As someone that found the cut and trust of meetings difficult for many years some of the little things that work for me are :

    to say ‘sorry that I cut in’ when you have have said your piece and you have unintentionally interrupted someone;
    to expect to cut in at times;
    to use phrases such as ‘at the risk of appearing rude, I suggest that we consider………’ to raise a new topic with the group, or to steer them back to something they may have left behind.
    If no-one has followed your suggestion, then use humour if you can, eg: ‘well I guess that it’s only me that wants to talk about this right now, (pause) I’ll just haunt some of you incessantly after this meeting until you tell me what you think.
    Lower your voice, it somehow has more gravitas; Practice this. Alone. Then on the phone with a friend.

  • Cheryl Bandel Wingate

    Wow, I’ve often thought about this because it happens to me a lot! In group conversations, I either chime in at the wrong time, speaking over someone else who wasn’t quite finished, or languish, trying to contribute something to the subject, but never quite finding enough of a lull in the chatter to get a word in. I find myself interrupting people unintentionally like this often enough that I’ve wondered why this happens and why it’s so hard to navigate a friendly conversation with more that two people. I feel so rude when I do this, when that is so not my intention. I’m so glad you brought up this subject, Tangerine. Good points to ponder.

  • Sharon Benton

    So – I wonder if all of us introverts were in a room together having a conversation, would we then have good conversational timing?

    • Tangerine

      We’d probably all be rooted in silence never quite sure of who will speak first :-0

      …and then run out of time and leave the room shaking our heads.

  • Jessica

    Definitely something I struggle with! Many people in my department are extroverts and we have a few railroaders so its a constant struggle of knowing when to jump in. And I feel like most of the time they don’t expect me to have anything to say because I also am not good with thinking on my feet and having any input during the meeting anyways. But sometimes I DO have something to say. I’ve kind of just resorted to speaking up and not worrying if I’m interrupting. If I am interrupting than oh well….either they’ll get over it or not!

  • Adrian Thorne

    I’m bad at ‘Intervention timing’ too and I don’t know how other people do it either. While as an introvert I find it uncomfortable, I have learned to do some of the things in this article: Make eye contact, raise or point my finger or pen or just plainly interrupt. That said, being an observer in a conversation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can use that to your advantage. By active listening, you pick up vibes others don’t, you can observe the dynamic of the group, you can pick up patterns in the conversation that others miss. Something, I often do when preparing for an important meeting, given sufficient time, is to arrange 1-to-1s with some of the people in the meeting either beforehand or afterwards about the discussion. Doing this before the meeting, you get an understanding of others personal thoughts. This can sometimes help you establish an angle in the meeting that others might not be aware of and it can get you a ‘place’ in the conversation as people look directly at you for support or to present the insight they know you have. Similarly I might go up to people afterwards and talk about my observations. Sometimes, this has interesting outcomes and in future meetings I am actively involved. So, sometimes not saying anything in a meeting can be more helpful than getting stuck in but you can establish yourself a place in a wider conversation by discussing what will or has happened with members on an individual basis which as an introvert you will find more comfortable.

  • Debbie Anderson

    In my company we all work remote so all of our meetings are webex conference calls. I am very soft spoken and I find it difficult to break in and be heard. Do you have any suggestions on how to speak effectively on group conference calls? I could also use ideas on how to point on a webex when people are looking at my screen.

  • Jay Siegelaub

    I am now retired, but I have the same kind of problem in simple social settings. When I am with my husband (who is an extrovert) and another extrovert – I can’t get a word in edgewise! As someone mentioned, “they” seem to be able to keep a running conversation going without interrupting each other – but I can’t manage to get in. I sometimes have to “kick” my husband with a “you’re not giving me a chance to get in!” look. But it happens again. I don’t like yelling or pushing myself in. The “office meeting” suggestions don’t seem quite relevant to social conversations. Suggestions?

  • Marcia Lawton Schlichting

    I had it really hard to get myself heard when living in Germany. Didn’t understand very well, and when I wanted to say something in our church group (I could speak English), didn’t know when to interrupt. Finally, I would ask my husband to let me know subtly when a chance for me to speak would come up.

  • Sharon Benton

    Tangerine – I can so identify with the timing issue! I have tried to research this but have not had success finding much about conversational timing. I have always felt my timing was “off”. I distinctly remember one group conversation in which I tried 3 times to comment and people kept talking over me. Someone finally said “Sharon is trying to say something.” then all eyes turned on me and there was silence. I was so mortified someone had to speak up for me (although I am certain she had the best intentions in doing so).

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  • Tangerine

    Something I’m really bad at is what I call ‘Intervention Timing’. I don’t like talking over people as I think it seems rude. But at the same time I seem to continually miss a point of entry when there is that short break in rapport as the discussion switches from one person to another. I’ve noticed other people seem to have no trouble voicing their contribution following someone elses and without talking over them. How does that work? Is it a question of being more visibly recognised as about to make a contribution? I so often end up just about getting half a syllable out before someone else jumps in. Totally infuriating. On the plus side, I probably end up absorbing more of the total discussion before finally being able to intervene in a way that makes use of more material. And usually when everyone else has worn themselves out a bit!

    • Jenna

      I do this as well! Cant understand how others in a group of 4-5 manage to talk without interrupting one another and I cant get a word in. I mainly find this Skype group chats as there’s no physical cues to judge when someone is done. I seem to be the only one that ends up talking over others