“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes” Maggie Kuhn

You’re a new manager and suddenly you’re invited to meetings at the ‘next level’. The invitation list also includes your peers (who are more experienced than you) and a layer of ‘senior managers’ who barely know your name.

For many, having to speak up at meetings feels like torture. What if you say something stupid/irrelevant/incorrect? Or what if (shudder) people disagree with your point? Oh, and what if someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, or even what they are talking about?

In your mind, it’s quite obvious that whatever you say in that meeting will reveal your total imposter status and make everyone question why you got the promotion in the first place.

Well, let me share a secret with you.  Every manager you have ever worked with has felt like this at some point  (and may still do from time to time)  And very few of us have been marched out the door due to a comment we made at a meeting.

The simple truth is this.  Good leaders want your input.  You work in the detail and they often need their ideas sense checked against that.  They also want to hear ideas of your own.  And if you don’t speak, you may come across as disinterested or disengaged.

But how do you get the confidence to speak up in meetings?  Well, it won’t appear overnight but it is something you can develop.  I have two steps you can follow to break you in more gently.

STEP 1:  FINDING YOUR FEET

In the next couple of meetings, do the actions in Step 1.  But don’t hang around on this step for too long.  Step 2 is where you’ll feel your confidence blossom.

Learn from others who do it well

Identify someone that communicates well in meetings.  Listen to the tonality and volume of their voice and what speed they are talking.  What is their body language and eye contact like?  Notice the response it gets from others.  Pick some elements from what they do well and try to use them yourself.

Be aware of your body language

Even if you’re not contributing to the meeting be aware of your body language.  That nervous, hunched up body language you adopt (because if you make yourself smaller, people might not notice you to ask questions, right?) may appear defensive or disinterested.

You should try and have an open stance which will give the impression of confidence

  • Lean forward
  • Hands on the table (research shows you look more trustworthy if people can see your hands)
  • Smile
  • Make eye contact

Ask questions

You need to get used to hearing your own voice at meetings.  The easiest way to do this is to ask questions.  Ask someone to clarify or expand on a point.

Listen to what is really being said

I’d like to make a bold statement.  A lot of people talk rubbish at meetings.  Just listen to what they say.  I’m guessing that you’ll hear some people talking for the sake of talking, not listening to others and frankly spouting a fair amount of nonsense.  The arena you are entering here is probably not as eloquent as Oxford University Debating Society.  You may be setting the bar a lot higher than it actually is.

STEP 2: FINDING YOUR VOICE

Now, it’s time to get serious!

Prepare what you want to say

Read the agenda and prepare your thoughts before you go to the meeting.  This will give you more confidence about what you want to say and you will be much more likely to speak up.  This is especially useful if you like time to consider your response rather than having to think on your feet.

Practice what you want to say

Yes, say it out loud.  Discuss the topic with a colleague to see what response you get, or stand in front of the mirror.

You may have noticed that an underutilised skill in meetings is ‘getting to the point’.  So when you prepare, take the opportunity to practice highlighting your key points without losing them in unnecessary detail.  A great way to gain favour with your fellow meeting attendees.

Contribute early in the meeting

Say something in the first ten minutes if you can, even if it is just to ask a question or agree with someone. Psychologically this will stop your self doubt creeping in.

Decide how many times you want to speak

Joel Garfinkle, Author and Executive Coach, suggests you challenge yourself to speak three times in a meeting.  Once to voice a point you have prepared, once to ask a question and once to share a thought that comes up during the meeting.

Depersonalise your ideas

I hesitate to add this in because I want you to be proud of your ideas and believe in yourself.  However, I also recognise that it can be useful to test the water before throwing yourself fully behind a more controversial idea.  You can do this by depersonalising a statement.  It’s all about the words you use.  For example, instead of ‘I think….’ try one of the following

‘Has anyone thought about….’
‘Some people might say…..’
‘Let me play devil’s advocate….’
‘Can we revisit……’
‘Did anyone mention…….’
‘Should we just take a moment to challenge our assumption that……’
‘Maybe we should also consider…..’

IT WILL BECOME EASIER TO SPEAK UP IN MEETINGS

Confidence comes with experience so the more you contribute the easier it becomes.  And you don’t have to be the most talkative person in the room to see yourself as a success.  You just want to leave each meeting knowing you contributed fully.

Voice your thoughts.  Share your ideas.  You deserve your seat around that meeting table.  It’s time to show them why.

 

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