Updated: May 28
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. My clients often describe feeling like nothing is being understood because they spend all the time thinking of the next intelligent thing to say. Then they freeze and overthink when it's their time to contribute. Hence, they end up feeling disappointed when they leave the meeting.
Everyday workplace situations might be stressful to the average person; however, to someone who is introverted, sensitive, high achieving, and speaks English as a second language, it can cause a lot of stress. It can also mean you may be more susceptible to stress and emotional reactivity, mainly when it involves judgment or evaluation from others (like in a meeting with a client or another consultant.
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. The best way to overcome this is to challenge your beliefs about what bad things will happen if you do contribute.
Challenge Your Beliefs about Contributing
How do you overcome limiting beliefs that hold 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 how the culture you grew up in shows respect. It's essential to understand how this might 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 internalise 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 energising for you?
Could you think of meetings as places where you get to share your perspective? It can be precious to get a new person’s thoughts to keep “group think” from taking hold.
Make sure you have something prepared to say if you're not quite sure how to answer tricky questions. For example, "That's a great question, and I'm not 100% sure of the answer. Could you give me some time to follow that up?"
2. Understand Cultural differences and Practise Curiosity
Having a better understanding of how different cultures communicate in meetings will also help you understand the dynamics and why you might have to adapt your ways of communicating when working with diverse teams.
I like to come from a place of curiosity and contribution rather than critique. It's important to remind yourself that you're doing the best you possibly can, given the circumstances. Remind yourself before each meeting that you’re there to learn and share your thoughts and that your contribution is a valuable part of the process.
3. Acknowledge the fear as part of the process:
Fear is the oldest part of your brain, trying to protect you from harm. It’s the self-protection instinct that means well, but now that there are no life-threatening predators out there, those native human instincts no longer serve us so well. To defuse the instinct of fear, I recommend that you acknowledge it and think about why this might be challenging for you.
4. Be prepared
One way that’s worked well for my clients and me 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 write everything you want to convey into three main points. It could be just one point. But make sure it's no more than three.
If you can, take the time to prepare yourself before each meeting by planning what you might say and what your clear objectives will be during the meeting. What things do you need to remind yourself about, and what questions could you ask? What could you do if you get stuck?
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 like you're just using the language because you think it makes you sound better? Don't make it too complicated if it doesn't need to be.
6. Practice aloud 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. Hearing yourself make a point helps to build confidence when you finally have to deliver that presentation to a client or your colleagues.
Think of this- you’re not nervous; you’re just not as prepared as you could be.
7. Ask for help
If you find it hard to break into the conversation during the meeting, ask the meeting organiser to give you some time to speak on the agenda. Or ask for the help of your colleague so you can input during the meeting. Could you also ask the meeting organiser to make a point to send you the plan before the meeting so you can mentally prepare yourself for what is to come?
8. Decide which situations will be the trigger for you to speak:
The key is to recognise before you go into the meeting where you will be most comfortable speaking up. Make sure if you haven't been given the chance to speak up you follow up afterwards.
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.