Knowing when to communicate in a meeting can be tricky, so it’s important to consciously assess how the conversation is flowing, how others are feeling and what the expectations are for the format of the discussion.
In formal presentations, it can be inappropriate to chime in with comments until a Q&A break. In workshop meetings, there is typically a greater expectation that everyone will just speak up when they have something to say.
When in doubt, raise your hand (physically or virtually) and wait to be noticed. Even in large rooms, this old classroom tactic tends to work pretty well, as a raised hand is a universal sign of requesting attention.
Waiting for a break to chime in can be challenging, especially in lively discussions, so if you’re unsure whether to break in or wait for a pause in the dialogue, look at how others are handling it (and how that’s being received). In some workplace settings, people are expected to simply speak up — and even speak across each other — to drive a discussion forward, although most people would consider this rude in other situations.
If you’re in a meeting where interruptions happen frequently and nobody seems bothered by it, that can be a signal for you to do in kind. Just be wary if the only person interrupting others is the boss. That’s a sure sign of a power-based double standard. In that case, the rules of engagement don’t apply equally to everyone, and the old hand-raise is still a solid fallback.
In these moments, those active listening skills can really pay off, as you can use facial expressions and body language to indicate you’d like to speak. If you’ve been making eye contact and engaging in nonverbal communication throughout the discussion, you’ll find it easier to nonverbally show that you have something to say, and earn a break to make your point.