May 7, 2019

Your Career - How To Speak Up In a Meeting

For many, speaking up in a meeting is akin to torture. What if we stutter, what if we say something wrong, what if people find out we’re a fraud who shouldn’t even be at the meeting?

I know I have experienced all of the above at one time or another. Now add to the shit mix the fact that English isn’t my first language. I used to be so worried about mispronouncing things, not structuring my thought correctly, not coming across as an articulate professional. Were people even able to understand my accent? Thinking about this now I can’t help but laugh out loud at my panic. Frankly, I wish I could go back and give myself a slap across the face and tell myself ‘Don’t be pathetic woman. You got this’.

You see, we all have these concerns when it comes to speaking in front of a group of people. Particularly when it’s at our workplace, surrounded by established people who know their stuff. It’s easy to get too wrapped up in our own insecurities and as a result take a step back and keep quiet. Unfortunately this is entirely the wrong thing to do.

You see, as a general rule of thumb, when you're in a meeting you’re expected to speak up. We haven’t been invited just to take notes, more often than not we’re invited to the table because we have a certain expertise when we’re there so that we can contribute.

Speaking up in meetings is also a useful thing to do both for your career and for your personal growth. Being able to engage in lively discussion, contribute with a point and speaking off the cuff are often the things that get us noticed. In many companies, the willingness to speak up and contribute on a topic is what is taken into account during performance reviews as well. So this is a particularly important personal attribute driven professionals should work on.

As I’ve explained before, I had my fair share of internal turmoil when it came to speaking up. Having worked in the financial services sector and the automotive industry too, also meant that I was often the only woman at the table so I felt I had to work extra hard to get over the mental hurdles I had put up myself. Here’s how I managed:

Prepare in advance

Most meetings are scheduled in advance and the project or subject that would be discussed are made well known beforehand. Make sure you prepare as much as possible. Familiarise yourself with the work but also the people who would be there. Who is who, who is likely to make what points etc. The more you know about a situation, the more at ease you’d feel. Prepare some talking points you want to cover or questions you want to ask and practice them at home.

Ask yourself ‘What do I bring to the table?’

Why are you invited to the meeting? Is this a project you manage so you knowing the ins and outs of the work better than anybody else? Or maybe you’ve worked on a similar piece and you can contribute with your experience? Maybe this work affects your department and you need to know how to support? You have to remember, you’re there for a reason, not because you got the invite by accident. Knowing the reason you’re there would help ground you and give you more confidence as to what’s expected of you and therefore how to prepare.

Listen to what is being said

It’s easy to get caught up in our own heads and thoughts to the point that we completely miss on what’s happening around us. Try and avoid this. Be present and listen to what is being said. Engage in the actual topic and don’t think too much about how you come across. The more engaged you are, the more genuine what you say will be.

Be mindful of your body language

When we don’t feel confident, we tend to literally fold in on ourselves. Hands crossed, head low, gaze down, fidgeting with a pen. Your body language is super important both for how you present yourself to others but also how you present yourself to yourself. Watch this amazing TED talk on power-posing and how your body language can shape your whole future. Make a point of straightening up, chin up, shoulders relaxed. Don’t scribble on your notepad but instead listen actively and look every speaker in the eyes, even if they are not talking to you.

Just speak up

I mean no amount of preparation, practicing and positive affirmations are going to help you unless you actually speak up. As far as cheesy mantras go, I must admit I am a firm believer in ‘practice makes perfect’ and ‘fake it till you make it’. Walk in with confidence, speak up and just go with the flow. These people you’re talking to, they have all been in your shoes, we have all been there at one time.

You will inevitably get a bit tongue-tied from time to time, stumble as you walk in front of the table, get someone’s name wrong but you know what, it’s fine. It’s not the end of the world. Trust me, the more you do it, the easier it gets. The difficult part is getting over yourself and those worst case scenarios you’ve concocted in your head.

After all, the worst thing you could do is do (or say) nothing. Take a risk to make a mistake. I promise you, it will be fine. After all, unlike what some may think, confidence isn’t something you’re born with. It’s something you acquire.

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