Meetings are a great forum to voice your opinion and talk to your co-workers openly about ideas you may have for the future. They’re also a great place to indicate your enthusiasm and share your ambition to your manager, so it’s crucial you spend the time being able to communicate this rather than sit through it while occasionally glancing at the clock on the wall.
Unfortunately and naturally, however, it’s pretty normal to feel intimidated to speak up during a meeting, especially if you’re new to the office or you’re inclined to being more shy or introverted. Here’s how to keep down the nerves so you ensure you’re making the most out of your time in the conference room:
1. Practice often
Thinking about the root of your nervousness will help you understand what you need to train yourself in doing. If you’re a naturally shy person, you may have some anxiety around speaking to other people, and training yourself to overcome this fear by talking to colleagues more informally and encouraging yourself to speak up during conversations will make sure you’re comfortable to do the same in meetings.
Sometimes the issue is less about speaking to others and more about speaking in a public forum – you’re probably experiencing a milder form of stage fright if this is the case. Signing up for a local public speaking practice group (ToastMasters is particularly popular) can help ease some of this tension.
If you don’t have the time for something so structured, giving yourself small goals each meeting can help you ease into speaking up – start with making sure you say at least one constructive comment, and work your way up.
2. Project confidence to become more confident
Ever heard of the phrase ‘fake it till you make it’? Behavioural psychologist Amy Cuddy talks about exactly this phenomenon in her book ‘Presence’, which is about the kinds of ‘power poses’ you can make through body language alone that allows you to create the illusion of confidence not just to others, but yourself.
Modulating your voice while you speak is another way to come across as assured in what you’re saying. Jean Palmer Hack, president of Real Impact, Inc., recommends ‘belly breathing’: ‘Inhale deeply and then project your voice by speaking from the diaphragm (…)it gives more power to your words and persona and can eliminate any shakiness in your voice’.
Seating yourself in the corner of a table, allowing yourself to be eclipsed by a fantastically tall colleague, and hunching over your notebook are all strategies to make yourself smaller. If you find yourself relying on these, correct your posture to sit straighter, place yourself in a more visible location, and allow yourself to project the confidence you want to embody.
3. Imitate successful colleagues, and stay open to growth
If you want to know how to walk out of a meeting feeling more accomplished with how you’ve spent your time, a good way to figure out what to do is by studying a colleague whose opinions or style of communication you admire.
How do they choose to convey their opinions?
Do they speak up during moments of silence?
Understanding this will help you figure out a strategy of your own.
A final thing to keep in mind is to be receptive to being corrected or being questioned. Meetings are places for productive discussion, and being honest about what you don’t know or asking intelligent questions you’re worried you’re supposed to know the answer to are all a part of this.
Using the forum to grow professionally doesn’t mean you’re less clever than your colleagues, it means you’re optimising the time you’re spending in the meeting, so don’t sweat feeling a little lost and saying so.