By Jessica Carlson
As an individual in a professional career, I spend a lot of time in all kinds of meetings, whether they are internal, client, or business partner meetings. Even though I have been in my industry for the majority of my adult life, I still have trouble speaking up in these meetings. I have been this way my entire life. As a student, even if I knew the answer and was confident, I refused to raise my hand. If I finished a test first (and I regularly did), I would wait until at least one or two people turned theirs in to get up and walk to the front of the room. This can all be traced back to my disaffinity for being the center of attention.
If you have been invited to a meeting, it is likely that you are going to be expected to speak up. This is one of the ways that some organizations measure your readiness to be a leader. So, why is it so hard? What causes knowledgeable professionals to freeze up in a meeting environment? I have been researching this question and have come across a variety of factors that contribute to the difficulty.
- Fear of looking stupid. What if you completely forget what you were going to say and freeze up? It is a threat to your credibility as a professional.
- You are unsure of how to articulate yourself. This goes right along with looking stupid. If you cannot put the words together, how will anyone else understand the point you are trying to get across.
- Fear of being judged by your peers. What if they realize you are not as smart as they thought?
- Fear of criticism. What if all they have to offer you is negative feedback?
- Fear that you will not be able to answer their questions.
Most of these fears go hand in hand. If you cannot answer a question, you will probably feel like you look stupid. So, how do you ease the anxiety that is building up?
- Prepare in advance. It is much easier to get your point across if you have had time to research and bring a few bullet points to back it up.
- Speak early in the meeting. It is a lot harder to get a word in if everyone else is already throwing their ideas around.
- Use your strengths. Do you have an area that you are a bit more knowledgeable in? This can be helpful to bring your confidence out if you believe in what you have to say.
- Ask questions. They say there is no such thing as a dumb question so if you need clarity on something that is happening, ask. Your colleagues would much rather you ask them questions than have to go back and start a project all over again.
- And lastly, just take a minute and breathe. This can center you as well as strengthen your voice so you speak with confidence.
The bottom line? If you are scared of something, you are going to avoid it. If you avoid it, you are not going to get any practice. If you do not practice, you are not going to get better. If you are not getting better, you are going to continue to be afraid. This loop of fear does not have to continue if you decide to break the cycle with a few of the approaches listed above.