Most meetings I sit in on nowadays are nicely structured. Whomever has called the meeting has already informed everyone of who is attending (and why), what the agenda is, and what results are expected. Rarely is anyone called upon and put on the spot. It would be perceived as trying to potentially embarrass someone.
But it happens nonetheless. Putting someone on the spot is critical for getting right to the point, especially in a large meeting where you need broad consensus. Attendees have to stake out positions and defend them. If you prepare yourself, anticipating that you’ll be called upon and put on the spot, you might come to see it as an unexpected opportunity to stand out among your peers. Here are a few suggestions:
Read the Agenda! Hey, this isn’t rocket science. Prepare yourself beforehand by reading the agenda and familiarizing yourself with the list of topics. Make notes, list questions that pop into your head. That way, when you’re in the meeting, you’re focused and attentive, and prepared in case you’re called on.
Admit if you really have nothing of value to add to the conversation. If you’re called on, and the topic really has nothing to do with your job, just acknowledge you have nothing of value to add and move on. It is perfectly fine not to add to the conversation, but do it diplomatically – “thanks for asking, but that’s outside of my area of expertise/responsibility, so I don’t really have anything to add at this time.”
Trust your gut. If you’re prepared, and understand the subject matter, then a poised response based on your experience and expertise (even if it goes against the group’s bias) will make a positive impact. If you value your own ideas, then others will too.
Don’t be afraid to think out loud. Sometimes in meetings, when everyone is stumped or no really good solution is on the table, leaders will look out and take a gamble and call on a junior member of the team for their ideas. If that’s you, it’s perfectly fine to ask permission to think out loud. “Well, that’s a great question, which everyone here is stumped on. Let me take a swing at it, and if it’s okay, let me think out loud and wing it.”
Take a deep breath. If you suddenly hear your name being called upon, don’t just jump up and start babbling. Take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and start with a steady cadence as you bring your ideas to the group. This takes practice, but once mastered, it’ll make you the rock star of company meetings!