For many, speaking up at meetings creates anxiety and fear. Yet, depending on your job title, you will be spending between 10% to 100% of your time at work in meetings. If you want to be visible, have your insights and ideas heard, feel like you are a respected contributor to your group, you must be able to participate. Here are seven ways to help you feel more comfortable and confident in these settings:
Prepare. If you know you will be asked questions or will be giving an update, prepare your content and answers. Be brief. Be precise. Give supportive material for your ideas and practical results if they are implemented. Prepare an outline for reference when speaking to keep you on track. Practice your words aloud.
Speak first or second. Get it over with. This will lessen your anxiety throughout the rest of the meeting.
Breathe. Use a number count to breathe in, hold your breath and then breathe out. For example: breathe in to a count of 5, hold for a count of 5, exhale to a count of 5. This effects the parasympathetic nervous system and will help calm you down.
Body Language and Eye Contact. Be aware. When you wish to speak be sure to sit forward, lean in to the middle of the table with your hands, move your arms away from your chest, make direct eye contact with everyone in the room. Even when you are not speaking, don’t slouch into your seat, with your head down and your eyes averted. Look like a participant.
Language. Don’t negate your ideas by using dismissive language. “I’m sorry to say….”; “I know this sounds stupid….”; “You probably won’t like this…”. Using statements that elevate your ideas will also help you feel more confident. “I’d like to add….”; “This may give us another perspective….”; “I was impressed by….”.
Timing. Often it’s not clear when to jump in. Each group has their own “rules” of participation. Know yours and adjust. Some groups allow everyone to speak over one another and the loudest and most long winded get the attention. Some facilitators expect everyone at the meeting to speak and participate. Some allow for the flow to be spontaneous.
Cues. When a speaker is almost finished, their voice goes down in inflection and their eye contact drifts. They may begin to sit back or move their body away from the center. Now is the time for you to jump in.
These proven techniques will give you the foundation needed to develop confidence in a meeting setting. And the more you implement them, the more comfortable and confident you will become.