Maybe it’s the colleague who talks too much and too loudly. Or maybe you’re nervously aware that your manager’s sitting opposite you and you want to impress them. Or maybe we don’t speak up thinking to yourself “why would anyone want to listen to me?”
Whatever the reason, you can find yourself lost for words in meetings and filled with a sense of shyness and self-consciousness as your nerves overwhelm you and you talk yourself out of speaking up and not allowing your voice to be heard, but how can we change that way of thinking? How can we contribute or be a part of change if you don’t speak up and participate?
Now, on the other hand, let’s say you may have succeeded in sharing your thoughts and experience which is very valuable, but have been ignored (may not be intentional) or “shot down” by more prominent voices in the room, come on let’s face it, there are at least a few lovable voices. At times, it can feel like you’re the only one struggling with these issues during meetings. But you’re not alone and maybe surprise that there are others who feel the same. Just as they have overcome their insecurities so will you.
Let’s consider why getting your voice heard in meetings is valuable. For the most part, getting your voice heard within your company is vital to your success and feeling valued. Your team meetings are the ideal place in which to do it, primarily if your manager is there supporting you. After all, it’s your manager’s role to help develop your skills and share their encouragement and guidance. When you raise your hand and insert your thoughts in a meeting, you demonstrate experience, value, and confidence. This is an opportunity for you to become a future leader for your company. Don’t forget; you can also create a meeting to insert ideas, gather like-minded individuals and collaborate on ideas to help with innovation for your team and company.
Your co-workers can’t help if you don’t share. You might be surprised to discover they too want to speak up but tend to shy away from speaking in groups. This is another way to gain leadership roles by gathering and producing great content with the help of your teammates.
Not getting the chance to speak, or not feeling that you are being heard, can be profoundly demoralizing and most of the time self-sabotaging. If those emotions linger and are not expressed, the feelings of frustration, demotivation and powerlessness can spill over into the rest of your working life. You should take this opportunity and share your thoughts with your manager during your 1:1 ‘s and have them become aware of your desire to present and speak at team meetings. If you don’t ask or share, your team and organization are losing out on your knowledge and experience and will be weaker for it. To make this happen, let’s look at ways to build your confidence and gain a sense of control that will allow you to create a valuable contribution to your next meeting.
First, you need to have confidence in your value. You’ve been invited to the meeting because you have something to offer. You’ll likely have incredible knowledge or skills related to the topic being discussed or maybe you can create a meeting to train others on your success.
If the reason for your attendance isn’t apparent, ask your manager or the meeting’s organizer. At any rate, you’re there because you’re wanted and valued, so feel confident.
Begin by asking questions about what other attendees are wanting to know. Creating a survey of possible topics that you are familiar with allows you to add value and contribute to the strength of the team. This shows that you’re attentive, engaged and interested. If you tend to freeze with fear in meetings, come to the meeting prepared with questions or ideas written down in advance.
Speak up for others, by learning to push yourself forward can be difficult. Most of us tend to find helping and praising others way more comfortable and welcoming. Get out of your cubical and start building your confidence by looking out for your teammates. If someone is interrupted, say something respectfully to steer attention back to him or her. It can be something as simple as, “Sally, what were you going to say, so we don’t miss anything?”
If someone says something that you agree with, say so. By giving her credit for her idea, you might want to build on it by adding your ideas that compliment them and highlight your thoughts too. When you become confident about speaking up for others, you’ll feel less self-conscious about speaking up for yourself. You will be seen as someone to trust.
Be one of the first to speak by speaking early in the meeting; you’ll have a say first and feel more relaxed, receptive and positive during the rest of the meeting. If you wait and hold back, you’ll likely become less engaged, nervous and then give someone a chance to forward your best idea that you shared with them. Now, this may not happen, and your teammate may think they are helping you, but they would be the one to look better at that moment. It may also be challenging to find a gap in the discussion for you to say what you wanted to say, so take the lead and be assertive. Now, with that said, be aware that being assertive doesn’t mean being aggressive, and that being early to speak doesn’t mean always being the first. I tend to add a little humor to break up my nerve and laughing together makes things more relaxed. Try it; you might like it.
Embrace introversion. If you’re one of life’s natural introverts, which I thought I was, until SourceCon 2008, don’t feel it should count against you in your meetings. This trait is quite the opposite. Susan Cain’s 2013 book, “Quiet,” argues that introverts are essential to successful organizations.
Take advantage of the fact that you’ll likely be known as reflective, strategic, thoughtful, a good listener, and observant. You can draw on these great attributes in two ways: the leading up to the meeting, research the subject under discussion and plan what you want to say or ask; once in the meeting, summarize what’s being said and offer a considered thought, which leads to contributing value and still being you.
Give your thoughts the advantage, get yourself on the agenda, so that you will have a guaranteed opportunity to talk, maybe start out with a 10 minutes’ discussion on a topic you are passionate about, even have someone who can keep time and help you if you get “stage fright.” If this isn’t possible, let everyone know in advance that you have something you want to share, which most of the time is not a problem. For example, if you’ve received an email about the meeting, reply, “I’m looking forward to attending this meeting. Is there time in the meeting and share my new ideas about X.” You’re putting it there and that you have something to add. This will show your manager, team that you want to be part of the team’s success, a great way to start on being an influencer.
Keep it short, with no feeling apologetic, always start and end your contribution with solutions. Avoid beginning with an apologetic when contributing to a meeting and being assertive, like: “I’m sorry, but…” This will immediately weaken your position. Start proudly and passionately with, “I’d like to say…” or “Can I just add…?” Once you’ve said what you want to say, finish speaking. People will appreciate your clear delivery.
When participating in meetings avoid saying, “I disagree.” People hear this and immediately feel confronted and annoyed, and they’ll probably stop listening to you and won’t want to collaborate with you. It’s far better to say one of the following:
“I wonder if we might also consider…” or “I see it differently because…”
Help others to get their voices heard. If you’re leading a meeting, be sure to make it a safe and productive atmosphere for everyone by stating rules of engagement in the meetings. Such as setting the tone for non-judgmental, inclusive and respectful behavior. Be encouraging, pick up on ideas and develop them, but don’t take the credit, give credit to all!
Invite all to contribute so that no one leaves without speaking or feeling left out.
Yep, meetings can be tricky to navigate. However, they’re also an incredible opportunity for you to increase your visibility, enhance your career prospects, and boost your confidence. In our industry, It’s so vital to overcome this fear or frustrations and learn how to make the most of this. Be considerate and generous to others at the meetings, get known by contributing a helpful question, observation or idea, and ask to be added to the agenda when you have something significant to offer.