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The Good Girl’s Guide to Better Meetings

By Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

Do you remember struggling to be heard and sound serious against the backdrop of louder, masculine voices in a meeting? Or have you simply found you had picked the wrong seat and ended up in an invisible backwater?

It’s a research-backed fact that women do not get accorded the same rights and privileges in meetings as men. A woman sitting at the head of the table is less likely to be seen as the meeting leader than a man sitting there. A woman seeking to influence a group will get fewer nods and positive body language cues from the other meeting members than a man – even if he uses the same words and ideas. Frankly, we need all the tips, tricks and techniques we can muster in order to be effective in this very common business setting.

At one of our “Good Girl’s Career Guide” seminars we tackled this issue and here we share the collective wisdom of the group.


This word came up in several of our discussions. It was relevant to communication, as well as to meetings. The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel, and the more effective you’ll be.

  • Prepare your strategy ahead of the meeting. Think about who will be there, what your objectives are, what theirs will be. Also, think about you want the other attendees to think and feel after the meeting.
  • Put your key ideas down in writing ahead of time. You could also copy your work as a handout for all attendees. Your ideas will be much harder to steal that way!
  • If you are prone to flush around the neck and upper chest when nervous, and if a big meeting is likely to make you feel that way, wear clothing to hide the area. You can also use cover-up makeup for the bits clothing can’t reach. Knowing others can’t see signs you’re nervous can bolster your confidence.

Physical Space

As women we are shorter, quieter, smaller than the average man. Taking our share of physical space can help us to stake a claim to our words and ideas. Here are some practical ideas:

Take a strategic position at the table.

  • Sit opposite the Chair to make it easier to catch their eye and break into the flow.
  • If there’s an ‘open mike’ section that always goes round the table in the same direction, make sure you’re not always sitting in the last seat (you’ll get less time).
  • Don’t sit out on the “flanks” of the table.
  • You may have to arrive early to get the best seat, though one suggestion at the seminar was to be among the last to arrive so as create more of an entrance.
  • If you are petite, try standing to share your thoughts. This not only increases your physical presence, it adds a visual signal to the auditory ones and registers more clearly in the audience’s heads who contributed the thoughts. Standing up can be effective for all women when the idea they want to share, and own, is an important one.


  • Make sure you say something, and make that something a worthwhile point.
  • When you’ve finished, stop, don’t feel obliged to fill the silence. Use the silence to draw others out (remember that people sometimes need time to process your points).
  • Make sure you have a ‘so-what’ in your point. It helps you keep ownership of the idea whereas an open-ended contribution invites other people to build on it.
  • Speak a little louder and just a little deeper than you usually do.
  • Please try to cut modifier words a little bit… they make us sound quite vague, don’t they?

And maybe you could consider avoiding the apologetic, uncertain tones, too?!

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