Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

To Mute or Unmute: That is the Question

Ever find yourself being ignored, muted or talked over in Zoom meetings?

Waiting patiently does no good. Neither does clicking the Raise Hand button or gesticulating madly from your little box. And trying to barge into the conversation uninvited may come across as rude.

What’s a Zoomer to do?

“[P]eople are giving fewer presentations due to the pandemic, but they are speaking more than ever in virtual meetings. And they are getting frustrated,” writes Harvard Kennedy School instructor Allison Shapira in this article for the Harvard Business Review. “Now that we’ve (for the most part) solved the technical challenges of finding the ‘mute’ button and learning how to share our slides (but not our desktops), we are confronted with the more adaptive challenge of leading an effective and efficient virtual meeting.” 

Shapira is the author of Speak with Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence Others. She is also the founder and CEO of the training firm Global Public Speaking. A recent survey by Global Public Speaking found that Zoomers all over the world are asking the same questions:

  • How do I speak up in a virtual meeting?
  • How can my team and I keep from talking over each other?
  • How do I make meetings more efficient and productive?
  • How can participants avoid interrupting each other and embarrassing themselves in front of clients?

Read Stop Talking Over Each Other in Virtual Meetings here.

Lawyers Mutual is here to help you navigate the new normal. Our email newsletter “Practice Reimagined” offers timely tips, pointers and valuable links on wellness, work-life balance and quality of life – delivered straight to your in-box. Lawyers helping lawyers. It’s what we’ve been doing more than 40 years.


3 Tips for Virtual Meetings

In her Harvard Business Review article, Shapira gives the following three tips for speaking up in virtual meetings:

1. Let the facilitator or leader know in advance that you want to say something. “That way, they can easily acknowledge you so that you don’t have to interrupt someone,” writes Shapira. “I strongly recommend using a facilitator or leader for any meeting of five or more people. This person will keep you focused and on time. With clients, it ensures a united, professional front that upholds your brand.”

2. Use a strategic filler word like “actually” or “so” when you want to jump in. “Use it when you sense someone has finished a thought, so the platform activates your video and gives people advanced notice that you are going to contribute,” she writes. “If someone tries that when you’re the speaker and you’re not done speaking, you can confidently say, ‘Hold that thought. I’ll turn it over to you in a minute.’”

3. Compliment the person speaking, then build on their point. “It maintains the current speaker’s credibility while giving you the space to jump in. If you think you might be interrupting someone but want to speak up anyway, own it: ‘I’m going to take the risk of interrupting Jeff here but I want to build on his point by saying…’”

4. Avoid the “Sorry, you go first” dilemma. “What happens when two people speak up at the same time, and there is no facilitator? If you have already spoken up in this meeting, concede to the other person. If you have not yet spoken, say ‘Thank you, I’ll be brief’ and then continue.”


Here are three red flags that mean you should sit tight and stay quiet: (1) when the meeting has already exceeded its scheduled time; (2) when whatever you want to say doesn’t have to be said in that particular meeting: and (3) when you’ve already talked plenty.

What about you? What tips would you share for speaking up – or sitting quietly – during virtual meetings?

Sources: Harvard Business Review; Global Public Speaking

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

Related Posts