-Melody Wilding, LMSW
Another meeting is coming up at work, and you’re dreading it.
Like so many professionals — probably many more than you realize — it’s not a comfortable environment for you. Maybe you’re shy, introverted, or you genuinely enjoy listening to others’ ideas. Perhaps it’s important to you to show respect by deferring to the leaders at the table.
Situational factors can play a part, too. Certain co-workers may dominate the discussion, not allowing you to get a word in edgewise.
Whatever the case, sitting frozen through yet another meeting can be a terrible feeling. By now you might even take it for granted that feeling self-conscious in meetings is part of the job. You may wonder if it’s really worth all of the effort to speak up, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you.
Elevating your visibility at work is essential if you want your career to evolve and grow. You work hard and have great ideas to contribute — you should be making an impact and getting the recognition you deserve. If you want to get ahead, then it’s important that your voice is heard. It’s within your power to take control and ditch the habit of staying silent in favor of speaking up.
Here are some very simple strategies you can confidently implement at your very next meeting. With a little practice, you’ll finally feel like the integral team member you’ve always been.
1. Banish Pre-Meeting Jitters
Your hands are shaky. Your stomach is doing somersaults. You suddenly start second guessing if you spelled the client’s name correctly on the agenda. These are common pre-meeting anxieties. It’s normal to experience anticipatory stress when you feel as if your intelligence or contributions are being evaluated.
Instead of interpreting your jitters as a sign that you’re inadequate or otherwise not up to the task at hand, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggests befriending your stress response, reframing it as a sign you’re ready for action and prepared to bring your best to the (conference) table.
2. Ease Into It
It may be tempting to arrive right before a meeting starts to appear prompt or avoid awkward small talk. But if you feel rushed or short on time, this will only exacerbate the existing stress you already feel during meetings.
Instead, build in a buffer and plan to settle in before things get underway. Give yourself the opportunity to ease into the physical meeting space. If it’s a virtual teleconference, get comfortable with the webinar controls, your mic, and webcam ahead of time.
As colleagues arrive, focus on making conversation with one or two people at a time, which can feel both socially fulfilling and less overwhelming. You’ll also already have an “in” of sorts as the meeting begins and conversation turns towards agenda items. This can help ease anxiety and make speaking up for the duration of the session seamless.
3. Commit To Speaking Early
Have you ever come to a meeting with ideas and plan for what you want to say, then left realizing you said nothing the entire time? While you’re not alone, staying quiet is doing yourself a disservice. It typically gets more difficult to enter the conversation as a meeting progresses. The longer you wait, the more your anxiety will build.
Growth often comes from discomfort, so push yourself to speak up early. Set a simple strategy to say something in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the session–whether it’s to welcome attendees, present your main argument, ask a question, or offer an opinion on a new business proposal. It’s a surefire way to ensure you contribute.
4. Use Your Strengths When Speaking Up
You don’t have to be the loudest in the room. Even the soft-spoken can still make an impact by backing up a coworker’s comment with a simple, “Great idea! I can see that working really well.”
You can also focus on asking powerful questions. Especially if you consider yourself an introvert, you’re likely very observant, which gives you an edge when it comes to posing the kind of thought-provoking questions that haven’t crossed your colleagues’ minds quite yet.
Another way powerful way to increase your impact and visibility even after the meeting wraps is by following up with an email to your boss summarizing key points raised, or better yet, providing a proposal for a new project sparked by the conversation. You’ll build up a reputation as someone who makes useful contributions and you’ll come to everyone’s mind more quickly when promotion time comes around. More importantly, you’ll gain confidence in yourself.
5. Be The One To Take Action on “Next Steps”
Did something come up in the meeting that could use more research? Commit to taking on something for the next meeting. It shows you have initiative and that you’re interested and invested in your organization.
This is a great example of employing a pre-commitment device, a habit formation technique you can use to nudge yourself towards behaviors you desire. You’ve committed yourself — now you’ll be more motivated and likely to follow through.
6. Challenge Your Beliefs About Contributing
Many people’s leadership instincts may not have been nurtured to their full potential in childhood, and subconscious insecurities can seep into our behavior to this day when it comes to speaking up. So how do you overcome old, outdated scripts holding you back from feeling confident about speaking up? It requires a deep-dive into your presumptions about self-worth and speaking up.
Growing up, what were you told about standing out? Were you given the message by your parents, teachers, and community that you could be whatever you wanted, or did you internalize concepts such as, “People won’t like you if you try to stand out”? If you find yourself easily devastated by real or imagined negative feedback when you express your ideas, consider that you may be reverting back to an immature identity when your self-esteem was more contingent on other people’s (especially that of authority figures’) opinions.
When you have a point to make yet find undermining thoughts creeping in, thank your inner-critic for trying to do it’s job by keeping you protected. Fear can signal you’re saying something of significance. Seize the moment. Stop playing small. Remember, you’re part of your organization because you’re qualified, you’re effective, and you matter.
You’ve got a lot to offer — now it’s time to let everyone know it.