Norton: The smartest person in the room is rarely the one doing the most talking (column) |

Norton: The smartest person in the room is rarely the one doing the most talking (column)

Michael Norton
Valley Voices

One of the common situations I hear about or questions I get asked by the community or from someone in a training session is this, “Sometimes I feel embarrassed in a team meeting because I don’t feel like I contribute enough, or I don’t think I know as much as everyone else and I have a little fear of speaking in a group setting. What can I do to gain more confidence so that I can participate more often?”

Here is the approach that I encourage others to follow, and if you find yourself in the same position as the one mentioned above, or know someone who is, I encourage you to try this, as well, and maybe pass it along.

The first thing to do is to prepare yourself mentally. By preparing mentally, I recommend that you do as much research on the topics that will be discussed and have your own materials prepared and ready to go.

Taking the time to over-prepare will immediately increase your confidence in the room. Don’t go into the room thinking that you have to be the smartest person in the room or that you have to try to compete with the subject-matter experts. You were invited to the meeting for a reason, so take the pressure off yourself.

The second thing to do is to prepare a list of questions to ask. Have at least five or 10 questions ready to go. By asking questions — good, smart questions — you take the pressure off yourself but still participate.

People who get nervous when speaking in front of a small or large group find that by asking questions, it helps them feel like they are contributing. Asking good and well-thought-out questions also sends a signal that you are pretty smart, too. You may not get to all of your questions, but again, having them ready to go will provide you with a greater sense of security.

The third thing I highly recommend is that you take notes, lots of notes. The more notes you take, the more engaged you will be. The more engaged you will be, the more thoughtful and creative you will be. And the more thoughtful and creative that you are, the more you will begin to form opinions and ideas about what the group is discussing.

This will give you the confidence and courage to either offer your opinion or form even more questions based on what others are saying and the notes you are taking.

Writing up a succinct version of your thoughts, notes and observations and sending those around is also a great way to have others see you in a different light.

If we take the time to prepare ourselves with knowledge and information, and then we write down some questions to ask the group and then as people are responding to our questions or they are delivering other information and we are engaged in taking notes, we will find ourselves in a very comfortable and confident position on the team. The smartest person in the room isn’t always the one doing all the talking. As a matter of fact, the smartest person in the room most often is the one seen doing all the listening, taking notes and asking questions.

So how about you? Do you spend a lot of time in meetings or on conference calls? Do you sometimes struggle with speaking up or contributing? Do you have your own process for participating and the confidence to speak up? Either way, I would love to hear your story, as always, at, and when we can be better prepared, ask good questions, take solid notes and actively listen, it really will be a better-than-good meeting.

Michael Norton is the president of the Zig Ziglar Corporate Training Solutions Team, a strategic consultant, business and personal coach and motivational speaker. He writes a weekly motivational column for the Vail Daily.

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