How do you usually feel in a meeting? Do you sit silently hoping no one will ask you questions or have you mastered the art of speaking up?
The fear of speaking up in meetings can incite fear in a lot of my clients. It's normal when English is your second language and you're afraid of saying the wrong thing. Often my clients describe feeling like nothing is being understood because their spending all the time thinking of the next intelligent thing to say and then freezing and overthinking when it's their time to contribute so they end up rambling and feeling disappointed when they leave the meeting.
Common workplace situations might be stressful to the average person, however to someone who is introverted, sensitive, high achieving as well as someone who speaks English as a second language it can cause a lot of stress and they are likely to shut down, especially when overwhelmed. However, as an introvert from a different culture, you bring many assets and talents to the table thanks to your ability to process information more thoroughly due to your sensitivities.
But it also means you are more susceptible to stress and emotional reactivity, particularly when it involves judgment or evaluation from others (like in a meeting or on a conference call).
Before the meeting, you could try writing down some of the possible questions you might like to ask during the meeting.
Speaking up at meetings can be stressful and pressure-filled. And it’s no wonder because you’re “on show” and have to perform at your best. But that way of thinking of meetings makes it hard to come across well, especially when you’re new to the team, role or company. The best way to overcome this is to challenge your beliefs about contributing.
Challenge Your Beliefs about Contributing
So how do you overcome limiting beliefs that are holding you back from feeling confident about speaking up or possibly even putting yourself out there in client meetings? It requires challenging your presumptions about self-worth and speaking up and not giving possible negative consequences as much thought.
Sometimes these limiting beliefs can be cultural and fear of speaking up can stem from the ways in which the culture you grew up in shows respect. It's important to understand how this might possibly be influencing your beliefs.
Is there someone you could talk to about these beliefs and ways to overcome this?
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 like, “People won’t like you if you try to stand out”?
Remember, you’re in your role because you are a qualified and skilled professional. Your opinion matters no matter your personality.
1. Remove the Pressure:
Instead of putting so much pressure on yourself to “perform” at meetings, how could you reframe them to be more energizing for you?
Could you think of meetings as places where you get to share your perspective? It can be extremely valuable to get a new person’s thoughts to keep “group think” from taking hold.
Or focus on being curious and learning…
2. Understand Cultural differences and Practise Curiosity
I like to come from a place of curiosity and contribution rather than critique. Remind yourself before each meeting that you’re there to learn as well as share your thoughts. It’s not about critiquing each other or yourself.
In my case, the critique was always harshest coming from myself. And that was a huge hit to my confidence. The conversations in my own mind were far worse than anything my colleagues had to dish out.
And that self-editing was ultimately harmful to my career because I came across as quiet and lacking in ideas as well as confidence. Hardly the mark of the future leader I wanted to be.
3. Acknowledge the Fear as Part of the Process:
Fear is the oldest part of your brain trying to protect you from harm. Seth Godin calls it the “Lizard Brain”.
It’s the self-protection instinct that kept your ancestors alive long enough to produce you. It means well, but now that there are no life-threatening sabre-toothed tigers lurking out there, those native human instincts no longer serve us quite so well.
To defuse that natural instinct of fear, I recommend that you acknowledge it, thank it for doing its job, and tell it that it can go back now – you can take over from here.
One way that’s worked well for me and for my clients is to use the “rule of three”. This comes from research that shows the human brain can only keep three ideas at a time. When you go beyond that, people won’t retain everything you say.
So make it a habit to bucket everything you want to convey into three main points. Or it could be just one point. But no more than three.
I find there’s an elegance to having three points – like the three legs of a stool, there’s a stability about it.
When it comes to making your points, think about the words and phrases you want to use. Do they make your point powerfully or do they make you sound tentative? Which words and phrases do you want to use? And which do you want to avoid?
For example, “In my experience…” conveys authority while “I guess…” does not. If you’re talking to a group of analytical people, they’re more likely to respond well to “I think…” rather than “I feel…” whereas it would be the other way around for a more emotionally attuned group. And “I believe…” can work for both groups.
6. Practice Out Loud in front of the Mirror
There’s nothing like practising out loud to help you feel confident in what you’re going to say. And no, it’s not enough to say it silently to yourself. There’s something about hearing yourself make the point that builds confidence when you get in the room and have to say it in front of others.
As one of my mentors told me, “you’re not nervous, you’re just unprepared.” Tough love is good love.
7. Ask for Help
If you find it hard to break into the conversation during the meeting, especially if you’re on a conference call, ask the meeting organizer to give you a slot on the agenda. Or enlist the help of a colleague to ask for your input during the meeting.
8. Choose Your Spots:
Every meeting has three parts to it: the beginning, middle and end. And the kind of comments and questions that happen in each part are a little different. The key is to recognize where you’re most comfortable speaking up.
The beginning is an easy time to make a point because you can be sure no one else will have made it yet – it’s like walking on fresh snow. And if you’re nervous about speaking up like I was, then jumping in right away is key. I had to hear my voice in the room within the first 60 seconds of a meeting or else the “what if I say something dumb?” voice in my head would spiral out of control.
Want to have the confidence to speak up more in meetings with confidence and conviction? Find out more about my 1:1 & group coaching programs and follow me on Instagram for daily tips and English lessons.