How to speak up in meetings

Do you find yourself biting your tongue during a work meeting and not speaking your mind?

Do you sometimes feel like you don’t have a voice or are too shy to say something and contribute? Or do you think a colleague is more confident and vocal in meetings and its hard to get a word in edgeways?

If so, it’s important to learn how to speak up in meetings so your opinions, ideas and voice is heard. But not just that, it can help position you as a confident, contributing member of staff which can help you move up the career ladder as well.

In my experience, not speaking up in meetings isn’t because you haven’t got anything of value to contribute, but that you’re scared. 

  • Scared of what people will think of you, or your ideas.
  • Scared you’ll be challenged or ridiculed.
  • Scared that no one will listen and so what’s the point.

I’m going to tackle each of these fears through sharing practical steps you can take to speak up in meetings more often, and with confidence.

1. Prepare ahead of the meeting

Most meetings have a pre-set agenda, so you know what will be discussed ahead of time. Make notes, brainstorm ideas and note down in bullet points the things you want to say, or contribute and take that notebook in with you to the meeting.

This will help you feel more confident about your ideas and opinions because you’ll have had time to think them through without pressure, and you can refer to your notes as you talk.

It’s also worth asking the meeting host if you can contribute and if so, at what point in the meeting. If there isn’t an opportunity for you to speak up, you can ask ahead that it’s added to the agenda.

2. Ask yourself, what’s the worst case scenario, really?

Fear of what people will think of you is often unfounded, or never as bad as we imagine. Our brains like to go to the worst case scenario immediately to protect you from shame or embarrassment.

Explore why you’re scared of their judgement and ask yourself: if they do judge me, what’s the worst that will happen? It’s likely that it’ll be a lot better than you initially think and that can give you confidence to have your say.

In my experience, I also know that most people are so concerned with how they look, and how they come across that they won’t be criticising you half as much as you think. They’re too busy worrying about you criticising them.

3. Have an arsenal of comebacks

If you do fear someone having a witty or dismissive response to you speaking up in a meeting, it can be useful to have an arsenal of comebacks ready. I’m not suggesting you’re rude, but that you have preprepared responses for questions or objections they might have. This is part of your meeting prep and anticipating responses and questions (both good and bad) will give you the confidence to share the idea or opinion in the first place.

4. Try the power pose

Have you heard of the power pose? It’s when you stand up straight with your legs a good width apart and lift both arms up the the sky – a looks a bit like superman or superwoman! It sounds daft, but doing this for a minute (in the bathroom) before a meeting can help your body feel more confident. You trick your mind into feeling powerful and assured and you’ll find that you feel more confident in your meetings.

It might sound odd but give it a go, it really works.

5. Start small

If speaking up in meetings is really overwhelming right now, start really small by asking simple questions and asking for clarification in a few upcoming meetings. Work your way up to sharing your opinions and ideas and don’t put pressure on yourself to suddenly be 100% confident in speaking up in meetings. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

6. Take it 1-2-1

If you’re reading these tips on how to speak up in meetings and thinking to yourself – I still don’t feel like I can speak up in front of large group, or, there’s someone particularly dominating who always hogs the conversation – talk to your line manager 1-2-1. Arrange a time to address your concerns, or share your thoughts in a less pressured environment and let them know that you want to speak up more but find it harder than others and need support. If they’re good managers, they’ll want to help you develop this skill and might be able to send you on further training or find strategies to help.

Jen Smith coaches entrepreneurs in social media.

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