How to Speak Up in Important Meetings

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. ( Courage to speak up )

-Mark Twain

A year ago, you were fresh out of graduate school and a year later you are the star performer in your company and your manager decides to give you a promotion. Along with this jubilant news, he tells you, “It’s now time to take it to the next level!”, but you don’t have the foggiest of what that means. You go home and you tell everyone— your spouse, your friends, and your 500+ LinkedIn connections, but deep down you know that this is just a prelude to what is to come. And come it does! The following morning, you are greeted with an email from your boss, asking you to speak up and ‘lead’ a meeting that includes your peers and senior managers, and you just come to know that your VP would like to sit in.

Speak up

Now, if you are anything like us, you are going through a terrible case of impostor syndrome and in that moment you are questioning your promotion more than anyone else in the room! But, let us save you the suspense— everyone (and we mean everyone) goes through the same emotions; in fact, there would be something wrong with you if you didn’t feel this way. That is not to say that you shouldn’t develop strategies of your own to build the confidence that would allow everyone around you to take notice. We are going to share a few methods to speak up in important meetings that can help you calm down those pre-meeting jitters and break you in more gently. 

Method 01: Making Every Word Matter
  1. Three Bullet Points: Before you enter any meeting, ask yourself the three most pressing topics that you would like to bring to everyone’s attention. Once you have those three key ideas (bullet points), you will see a structure emerge, helping your confidence immensely. Use these scribbled notes are guidelines when it is your turn to speak up.
  2. First Mover Advantage: Remember the pre-meeting jitters we talked mentioned? The best way to get rid of these is to initiate and speak up in the meeting. You can start with saying something like: “I would like to The advantages of this are manifold:
  • There is little time to censor/doubt yourself. Get a head start by making your point. 
  • There is little chance that your points are going to be hijacked by somebody else.  
  1. Confident Speech: One way to project confidence is not to be tentative (we give off that impression by using too many filler words such as ‘uh’ or ‘um’). The mantra ‘fake it till you make it’ is going to come handy in these situations. Even if you don’t feel confident within, with practice, it’s still possible to exude confidence. 
  2. Domain Expertise: Think about what you bring to the table! What is your differentiator and once you have identified your strengths, then all that’s left to be done is to play to your strengths. Maybe you are the only one who had done an exchange program in Tokyo during your sophomore year and that can allow you to offer some unique insights into making inroads in the Japanese markets.
  3. Brevity is the soul of wit: There is nothing worse than someone droning on during a meeting. Focus on speaking clearly and succinctly. Only if you take time to structure your thoughts will you, then, be able to articulate them effectively. 
Method 02: Engaging in Every Discussion
  1. Art of note-taking: Mastering the art of taking quick-and-dirty notes in a meeting can give you visual cues for the right time to chime in, in turn bolstering your confidence. Taking notes is also a practical ‘virtue-signaling technique’, signaling your engagement even when you are not speaking.
  2. Goal Setting:  We have honestly lost count of how many times we said to ourselves that the next meeting would be the one in which we will make our presence felt. If you, too, are someone who is brimming with ideas but can’t get a word in edgewise, then you can set a goal for yourself. It could be as simple as: “speak up at least once each meeting” or “making a comment at least once per week”. Just like any other process, this is not going to seem natural at first, but, in time, will become second nature.
  3. Body Language: The chances that people would take you seriously would diminish significantly if, instead of making eye contact, you are either fumbling with your notes or staring into nothingness. Hands in the pocket or crossed in front of you are a strict no go. Using your hands to make gestures through the presentation signals positive intent. Similarly, if you are standing then pointing your feet straight ahead and leaning slightly forward with feet hip-width apart exudes confidence and engagement. 
  4. Volunteer: If during the course of the meeting someone brings up a point that needs to be researched/investigated, then this is your chance to take on the challenge. This not only gives you time to prepare for the next meeting but also nudges you to participate in the next meeting. 
Method 03: Dealing with Butterflies in the Stomach 
  1. Embrace pre-meeting jitters:  Do not deny what you are feeling. Remember it is entirely normal to feel what you are feeling, but it is entirely within your powers to use these feelings to propel yourself. Positive self-talk can do wonders. You can tell yourself the following:
  • Feeling nervous is a good thing. It means that I care deeply about what I do and turn this nervous energy to my advantage.
  • Accepting unpleasant emotions will help them diminish over time and will help me win over them.
  1.  Face your worst fears: Fear begets more fear! The negative spiral of fear could begin by a germ of a thought: ‘Am I good enough to be here?’ or ‘What if I make a mistake?’. The best way to nip this in the bud is when you feel these thoughts coming up, ask yourself the following question: ‘Do I have any evidence to back up these fears?’. You will be surprised to find out how often your mind tricks into believing something that’s completely baseless. Replace the negativity with positive self-talk instead!

Focus on self-care: self-care is the most important pillar on which everything rests and is also, ironically, the most overlooked. If you have a big meeting coming up, taking care of your body and mind is the surest way to calming those nerves. Get plenty of sleep the night before so that you wake up feeling well-rested. Eat healthy food and limit the intake of caffeine and other stimulants. A word of caution: do not make any drastic changes just for that day as your system may not have time to adjust.

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