Understanding how and when to interject in a meeting is an art that is easy to master, by understanding a few simple rules.
Rule #1 - The chair of the meeting has ultimate responsibility for who speaks and who doesn’t.
If you’re not sure who is the chair, see our guide for how to find out who is the chair of the meeting.
To interject, all you need then is their permission.
These are the ways to do so:
- Stand up (this is what you see politicians do during a debate, waiting for the chair to allow them to speak)
- Raise your hand (like in a classroom)
- Raise your finger (the chair should see you finger raised, you make eye contact and they should acknowledge that you have a point to make)
- Make a spoken request (“If I may interject?” or “through you chair, may I make a point”)
- Make eye contact with the chair and try to convey that you want to speak (tricky to do but possible if you know the chair well)
Rule #2 – if everyone stops speaking then anyone can start speaking.
If the chair is ignoring you for whatever reason, you can force them to acknowledge you and let you speak by getting the rest of the room to stop speaking and let you speak.
Typically you might look agitated in your seat, as if bursting to get a point over, make eye contact with all the other room participants and make sure they are each aware that you have something vital to say. Like as not they will then defer to you the next time a speaking turn comes round.
Rule #3 – if two people compete for a speaking turn, the loser gets first refusal on the next speaking turn.
Speaking in a meeting is essentially a turn based activity – one person speaks and then it is the turn of another. However, the way we work is that if two people try to start speaking at the same time, one will defer to the other.
The interesting side effect of this is that if you want to interject you can get up the pecking order by trying to speak out of turn, defer gracefully and then you will get the next turn.
Rule #4 – if you do stop someone mid-flow, acknowledge your interruption and let them finish after you
You can interject with someone mid-flow but you must acknowledge that you are interrupting. – with ”sorry, may I interject?” or ”sorry, could I interrupt you”.
Once you’ve completed your point or question it is only polite to allow the original speaker to finish what they are saying. “thanks for letting me interrupt, please continue what you were saying”
It is worth noting that your interruption should be relevant to the matter in hand (as agreed by the whole meeting) and should avoid shaming the speaker. No-one will thank you for pointing out a flaw in someone’s argument before they have finished making it.