Five minutes.

Three hundred seconds.

That’s how long you have to make sure your voice is heard in group meetings. It’s what I’ve nicknamed the five-minute rule.

But before we get into it, let me explain where it came from.

I have quite a few clients who I would classify as extremely introverted. These are brilliant leaders who have a ton of value to offer to their organizations and insights to add to important conversations, but they have a tendency to stay quiet in group meetings.

This creates a challenge, since as we see time and time again, the loudest are often seen as more engaged, knowledgeable and interested.

So these introverts are constantly trying to increase their leadership presence in meetings. And to be seen as valuable participants.

But surprisingly, the issue isn’t limited to introverts. I have another client, who is a classic extrovert. She loves socializing and has no problem speaking up–except when she’s suffering from a pretty intense case of imposter syndrome, which tends to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune times.

So I have clients who don’t feel comfortable speaking up in meetings because they’re introverted, and clients who are extroverted but don’t feel comfortable speaking up in meetings because they’re worried about saying something that’s incorrect. They want to be 100 percent right, 100 percent of the time.

But despite the differences in their challenges, the solution is the same: Say something and say it early in the conversation.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure your voice is heard in the first five minutes of a group meeting. Hence, the five-minute rule.

I’ve found this to be true for a couple of reasons:

1. Not knowing when to jump in

One of the main reasons introverted employees hesitate to participate in group meetings is because they aren’t sure when to jump in. Do they introduce themselves? Is now the right time? Is nowthe right time? There’s a lot of confusion. I liken it to running to the edge of an ice cold pool, ready to jump in, and then instead of jumping in, you jump up and back down to the edge and slowly back away.

This happens over and over again as they try to find the perfect time to jump into the conversation. And more often than not, they never find the perfect time. So the meeting begins and ends; The same people contribute, and the ones who didn’t are seen as disengaged or uninterested.

2. The voice register 

Once somebody’s voice is heard in a meeting, your subconscious brain picks up on it and registers it. At that point, those particular voices are expected and are part of the conversation. And when (or if) a different voice chimes in at some point later on, it’s confusing. Who is this new voice? Where did it come from?

I can see this in my own experience, and you may be able to relate: The first people to speak in a group meeting usually end up controlling the rest of the conversation. If you go into a meeting with five people but only three speak, then that meeting often becomes a conversation between those three people. Or if you’re one of the participants who always speaks, you’ve probably felt the head nod or the eye contact when someone expects you to provide your perspective. You don’t have to make space to be heard; You’re given space to respond.

So speaking early can help with both of these challenges.

But that’s only half of it. That’s what employees can do to feel more comfortable speaking up in group meetings in order to increase their leadership presence.

The other half is what leaders can do to create an inclusive environment where every employee– introverted, extroverted, those who suffer from imposter syndrome and those who are just lacking confidence–has an opportunity to speak up.

This is also part of the five-minute rule, but instead of focusing on the first five minutes of group meetings, leaders should focus on the last five minutes.

Go around the room and ask every member of your team what they thought. Ask if the presentation or subject matter was clear. Just ask an open-ended question and give everyone the chance to respond. This is important in person, but it’s even more critical in virtual meetings.

If both leaders and employees follow the five-minute rule, I believe we’ll have more confident contributors and more collaborative meetings.

Do you agree? Join me on LinkedIn and let’s continue the conversation.

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