How do you get people to speak up? Not just to share their opinions, but to share true thoughts, pleasant or otherwise?

During a training session, my mentor, Idit Biton, raised a problem with the team and asked for solutions. This was met with awkward silence and nervous glances all around. Idit gave me a look that said – “watch this”: She divided the group into pairs and gave them seven minutes to discuss and suggest a solution. On her go, the room was abuzz.

Hello?? Clearly people had what to say. So what makes someone who has an idea, suggestion, or helpful criticism clam up?

  1. Fear of public speaking – To quote Jerry Seinfeld – “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking” (and if you’ve never seen that bit of his, you’re in for a treat).
  2. Uneasiness from people in the room (either their teammates, subordinates, or supervisors. Even walls have ears.)
  3. Worried that what they are about to say will sound dumb/haughty/baseless
  4. Just plain shy. Some people turn red when all eyes are on them and they want to avoid that if they can.

If it’s your role to get input – whether as team leader, problem owner, or facilitator – you need to help get the voices out in the open. Not all who participate in your meeting or session is a natural public speaker.

Here are 5 techniques guaranteed to get people talking and sharing:

1. Dividing into pairs/trios/groups: As I shared in my story above, the talking started to flow as soon as people were divided into pairs.


  • You can try out your ideas and suggestions on one person which is much less intimidating than the whole group;
  • You get immediate feedback from your partners (thumbs up, thumbs down, or areas that should be polished);
  • There’s more confidence when presenting since the suggestion was liked by all partners who now stand behind the idea;
  • Only one person actually has to present;
  • Can weed out the so-so ideas and comments by having teams present their favorite, and saves time since only need to present once if both partners share the same sentiments.

2. Writing ideas and thoughts down on a piece of paper/notepad/document.


  • Everyone has time to gather their thoughts independently;
  • Writing things down gives people the opportunity to see how it will sound outside their head, helping word it in a way that makes sense to others;
  •  No need to actually present as they can be collected – whether placed around the room for people to peruse or just for the eyes of the person running the meeting;
  • It can be anonymous if need be. (Yes, sometimes you really need to know who said what, but that’s your future problem. First get people to spill.)

3. Using a template/model for people to arrange and share their thoughts. For example – one of my favorite models is Edward De Bono’s PMI – Plus Minus Interesting, which is used to generate discussions around the positives, negatives, and interesting parts of an idea or strategy.


  • Not everyone knows where to begin. A template helps guide thoughts productively;
  • Not everyone feels comfortable sharing criticism – depending who’s in the room or to be thought of as a team player. Having everyone use the same language puts everyone on the same page and provide insights from different angles;
  • Helps steer the conversation -A friend confided in me that during meetings she feels she either says nothing or talks forever. A template keeps people on point.

4. Give info in advance – make sure everyone knows what the meeting is about and what their role is in it.


  • People aren’t put on the spot and have adequate time to prepare;
  • If it’s not a forum they feel comfortable with they can discuss alternatives or opt out.

5. Speak to people in private – With some folks, no matter what you do, you know they won’t say everything in a public forum. If their opinion matters to you then it’s time to go one-on-one.


  • They can feel comfortable to share the good, the bad, and the ugly;
  • They will feel valued that you sought them out to hear what they have to say, and respect their comfort level.

These techniques can be used individually or together. You know your people, and if not – time to learn your audience. Mix and match away so that you get the valuable input you desire.