How do you sit?

I’ve had a couple of conversations with clients lately about leadership presence and how to increase visibility. Sometimes it’s about speaking up more. Sometimes it’s about what you say. Sometimes about how you say what you want to say. And sometimes it’s about saying less and increasing your non-verbal leadership presence.

As a continuation of two previous blogs on the importance of considering how we show up in meetings, it’s important to also think about how and where you sit in meetings.

Sit at the table
Sheryl Sandburg (COO of Facebook) was my first introduction to the idea of ‘sitting at the table’. This is a big concept covering topics like ambition, career strategy, speaking up, confidence, imposter syndrome and so on. It also refers to physical visibility – sit up at the meeting table.

Women often default to sitting around the edge of the room. As is the way, you don’t notice what you don’t notice, but once aware of a phenomenon you start to see it. I started to notice where people tended to sit in large meetings especially when there were not enough seats to fit everyone at the table. Regularly, I spotted the same senior women defaulting to sitting a row behind.

Observing and respecting power, status, and hierarchy is appropriate. The trouble comes when that deference is displayed unconsciously and based on gender. When not sitting at the table you look like a spectator rather than a participant. You are not visible and will find it more difficult to contribute to the conversation. What a waste. What are you in the meeting for?

So, please, sit up where the action is happening. And if you arrive early, you are more likely to get a good seat closest to where the important conversations are being held.You will find it easier to participate in the conversation and you will be in the line of sight of everyone else at the meeting. It can also help you build relationships over time with the senior people or influencers.

Sit with an open body posture and take up space
Women more than men can be found sitting curling themselves up, crouching over, legs close or intertwined and arms in, head tilting, with hands under the table; in effect making themselves small and appearing unthreatening. Men tend not to do this. Men tend to take up more space.

I observed this in a family photo the other day. Picture five people sitting on a couch for a photo. Man – woman – man – woman – man. There was not enough room on this couch for five people. All three men did not appear to be affected, each sitting with knees spread wide apart, chest broad, leaning back, arms spread out over the women and over the arms of the couch. They appeared very comfortable and relaxed with the space their bodies were taking up. The two women by contrast were very squashed, shoulders hunched, twisted sideways, legs crossed and squeezed, taking up a fraction of the space of the men.

This manner of taking up space shows up at work. Higher status people tend to speak louder, more rapidly, maintain high levels of eye contact, with an open, backward body lean. So, I invite you to take up more space. Uncross yourself. Be as big as you are. Sit straight. When standing stand tall, plant your feet flat on the floor with your weight evenly distributed.

 Experiment and find your way of both feeling comfortable and authentically yourself AND open, upright and as big as you are.

And with more meetings on zoom these days explore how you can take up space on the screen. With multiple people on gallery view how will you be more than a small dot in your frame?

I’d love to hear how you make yourself visible and present in a zoom meeting as well as what works for you in a physical meeting room. Let us know in the comments below.

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