Recognise the feeling of not being confident enough to speak up in the board room or any room matter of factly? Clearly, you’re not the only one. A lot of people feel like this in meetings, whether they’ve just started a new role, or with 10 years of experience but just naturally shy. That’s totally ok, and makes you no less of a great professional in your field.
However, learning to speak up in meetings confidently, can do so much for you! You will see that once you get going, you will see great results for your career. Not speaking up means people may forget you’re in the room or have something valuable to contribute. People who speak up are more likely to be noticed and to be promoted. Your ideas or contributions are incredibly valuable, but if you are not taking the space and time to express them, how will anyone know?
To express your own opinions is immensely liberating, as you will see the positive response which will give you confidence to go further, and share more. To kick-start this positive cycle, Marja Verbon the founder of Jump personally shares some tips and tricks that have helped me personally. Why not give them a try and see what they can do for you?
First, convince yourself that you can do it
To start off, your first priority is to give myself the confidence to start speaking up in meetings. You’re in that Zoom call or meeting for a reason. You have been invited to take part in a discussion, because whoever has set up the meeting believes you can make a valuable contribution which will further the project, or help solve an important problem. Recognise this and tell yourself that your contribution is as valuable as anyone else’s in the room. The first person who needs to believe in yourself, is you.
Your ideas may or may not be the right one, but really, that is not the point, so next time, you are doubting your ideas, just try and see if they could work. The worst you can do is to discover a way it won’t work (thank you, Edison, for that amazing lesson). Embracing failure is the only way to get to success.
Tip 1: Don’t apologise
There is no need to apologise for the contribution you’re making. Often, it’s tempting to start with prefaces like “I’m sorry if this sounds like a silly idea” or “sorry to interrupt.” However, this risks you playing down the value of your contribution. Be confident in what you have to say, after all, you are your harshest critic so you can be fully sure what you’re sharing is not silly, stupid, or a waste of time. If possible, share your learning objective with a colleague or manager, and ask them to take note of when this happens during meetings, so you can learn from each attempt and try again!
Tip 2: Use your voice to your advantage
Did you know you can use your voice as your tool for extra impact? Naturally, we are inclined to swing up at the end of a sentence, as if adding a question. This tentative way of putting statements really undermines the impact of what you’re trying to get across. Instead, try to practice swinging your voice down at the end of a sentence (for example through recording your voice and statements, or even practising with a friend).
Tip 3: Be bold and seize the moment
Speaking up can be hard when you are surrounded by people who are incredibly outspoken (read: loud). To get your ideas into the conversation, something that has really helped me is to unapologetically pitch in at a quiet moment. Don’t wait too long to pitch in, as the pause will be gone and someone else may pick up on it. A great way to execute this is to build on something someone has previously said, using a cue such as “And building on that, I think that…”. In this way, your point is a natural continuation of the subject. Alternatively, once you have enough confidence to share opposing opinions, you could use a cue such as “That’s a great point, and it would also be good to consider another point of view.” If you want to share challenging views without coming across too assertive, using “and” instead of “but” is a good way to start.
Tip 4: Keep calm, and carry on
Getting interrupted while you’re speaking can be so off-putting. You’ve just found the confidence to speak up, and now this! The best way to deal with this is to put aside your emotion, and keep camp. Simply point out politely that you appreciate their point of few and you’d like to finish your point. You can use an assertive, yet collaborative cue such as: “I’d love to hear what you have to say, but could I please finish first and can we then return to your point?”.
Note that this is phrased as a rhetorical question, so you can continue with your point straight away after. It is highly unlikely that the other person will continue to cut you off after that as it’d be perceived as incredibly rude on their behalf. It is not abrupt or inappropriate for you to do this, it is helpful – after all, we’ve just established your point is valid and should be heard as an useful part of this meeting.
This is not a 1, 2, 3 go! exercise. Getting into the habit of making effective contributions to meetings – especially important ones – is a journey, not a step-change. So when embarking on this journey, give yourself the time and space to try, and to fail. This applies to learning, as well. The process of learning is more important than the often intangible result or “end goal.” Celebrate every small step you make, every time you try, whether it was successful or not. By celebrating the act of trying, rather than the act of achievement, you will go a long way on the journey of speaking up for yourself and sharing your own, valuable, perspective.