Speaking to be heard versus talking to be noticed is a distinction that must be made. Always speak to be heard. Make sure that the words that come out of your mouth are filled with value. It is the value that you bring to the table that will be taken home by others that night.
In school we were taught to participate in a discussion. In fact, often times we were penalized if we did not. What many fail to realize is that there are many ways to participate. For example, non-verbal communication is just as strong as verbal communication. However, the idea that we have to "talk" in order to be noticed or valued is so ingrained that we say things just for the sake of saying them.
In the small business arena this will not take you very far. Everyone's time is valuable, so do not waste your time or the time of others talking about the weather. When you travel down the road of idle chit chat for too long, people will always stop paying attention. Furthermore, by the time you get around to say something important, they will not be listening and your opportunity will have passed you by.
Both action and inaction will yield results. That being said, what you choose to say and what you choose to withhold will speak volumes. The more you begin to monitor your thoughts before they translate into words and come out of your mouth, the more value you will extremely bring to the table. A great way to practice speaking to be heard is to become "the summarizer". In a group discussion, listen to everyone first. Even if you have an opinion or an answer to someone's question, wait. Hold you comments until you have heard enough perspectives on the topic and are able to find the links between them. Then speak. Summarize what has been said and by what. Acknowledge the value in their statements and the statements of others first. Then, offer an opinion or solution that links all of their perspectives.
Allow yourself the time to fully comprehend the situation or topic and then offering a truly valuable option (one which is both comprehensive but leaves the door open for further growth and discussion) is speaking to be heard. The person who speaks to be heard will reveal his or her value and capture an audience in one or two sentences. It will set you apart and give people a glimpse into your infinite abilities. Once someone recognizes the value you hold and the potential you possess, they will you in high regard. Ultimately, that is the goal of all business networking. Whether or not someone can use your service or product is irrelevant. It is how they view you that matters. It is how they view you that will determine whether or not they will refer you or make an effort to help you when help is needed.
Speak to be heard.