May 27, 2011

7 tips for speaking up in meetings



Meetings. We hate them, yet we have to go to them. There are too many, yet not enough. We even call them ourselves from time to time. And the worst thing about meetings? Not knowing when we're going to be called on to speak.

There seems to be an ingrained insecurity in many of us when it comes to speaking up at meetings. Whether it's the discomfort of not having prepared arguments or answers, or whether it's the fear of sounding like an idiot when we do speak up, meetings are a stressful environment for many of us.

In a previous blog post, I talked about speaking off the cuff, and being prepared for those times when... you're not prepared. There are a lot of relevant tips there for speaking up in meetings.

But I wanted to be more specific today. You know you're going to the meeting, so how can you be prepared when it comes time for you to speak? Here are a few more tips.

1. Remind yourself that you have lots of good ideas

Before the meeting is a good time for a little positive self-talk and maybe some visualization. Picture yourself in the meeting, smiling, speaking with confidence, making good points and asking good questions. You have valuable ideas to contribute to the meeting. You are just as intelligent and important as the next guy or gal.

2. Look at the agenda

Not surprisingly, many people receive an agenda in advance and never look at it. So, let's make this first step super easy. Look at the agenda. Determine what topics are going to be covered, and see if anything applies to you!

3. Ask yourself: "Do I have to talk about any of these topics? Will I be asked any questions?"

If you see topics on the agenda that have anything to do with your position, your department, your area of expertise... anticipate. Anticipate what updates you might be requested to give or what questions your colleagues might ask you.

4. Ask yourself: "Do I want to address any of these topics myself?"

In looking over the agenda, you might see something you want to discuss, something you've been wondering about, or something that you need to share. If this is the case, prepare your question or suggestion in advance. Plan what you want to say, and practice it if you're unsure of how it might come across.

I suggest giving yourself homework. For the next four meetings, plan to have something to talk about. Task yourself with speaking on purpose, and prepare some comments, questions or suggestions. This will give you experience in speaking up and it will start to feel less awkward.

5. When something comes up unexpectedly, make notes, relax, then respond

If you have a fear of sounding dumb in your meeting (and who doesn't?), take a moment to gather your thoughts before you speak. Jot down a couple of points so you don't forget them, or so you can put them in a logical order.

Clench and unclench your hands and feet a few times under the table to get your blood flowing and provide a mini-relaxation response. Take three slow, deep breaths through your nose. Stay focused and don't let the beating of your heart distract you.

This doesn't guarantee that you won't sound dumb, by the way. But usually, you only sound dumb in your own mind. The rest of the people in the meeting aren't really that invested in how brilliant your ideas are. They're too worried about sounding dumb themselves.

6. Always remember: It's okay to say "I don't know."

Don't put so much pressure on yourself to know everything and have the answer to every question. No one knows everything. Read "5 ways to say 'I don't know'" for creative ways to handle this situation.

7. Also remember: Life is too short to obsess about how you're perceived by others

If you have questions, ask them. If you have ideas, share them. I'll tell you what others in the meeting are thinking: "I'm so glad she brought that up, because I don't want to look stupid by asking."

Don't miss out on opportunities to learn, to engage, to be heard, because you're so worried about what others think of you. You're the only one who is hurt by hiding in fear, but you're not the only one who gains by speaking up.

What other tips do you have for speaking up confidently in meetings?

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3 comments. Please add yours! :

Healthy said...

These are really good ideas. Lots of people have a lot of experience in a particular area but they never share what they know with others. Sometimes they are wary of having people stealing their ideas.

However, at other times, they have problems with how well their ideas will be accepted in meetings online or offline. For some reason, there are many individuals who think it is important to put down the ideas of others or say what can't work. However, as you pointed out, the person who should be anyone's chief concern is themself and how they benefit.

Michelle Tenzyk said...

Thanks for posting this. I am working with a manager who needed some help with speaking up more confidently in meetings - and this post hit everything spot on. Great resource for me to share.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

I'm glad you found it helpful, Michelle! Good luck with your manager.

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