It is the Monday morning team meeting, and you know you will be first up to talk about your week ahead. You feel your mouth starting to go dry, heart start to race and a warmth creeping up your neck as your turn comes closer. The fear of public speaking is real. If the statistics are anything to go by, you can rest assured you are not alone. In fact, over 75 per cent of us fear getting up in front of others.
Add to that the other factors that play into meetings. Whether we have the knowledge and expertise to make a valuable contribution? Whether speaking up could cause offence to others? Whether sharing an idea could cause a political nightmare?
The combination of dancing around what we want to say with what we should say, coupled with nervousness about public speaking, can be a lethal combination of fear and self-doubt!
The good news is that with some preparation and a few tools, you can squash self-doubt in meetings and be an active contributor to your team. Here’s how.
Deep breathing to calm your nerves – all you need is 10 minutes
Nerves in meetings can quite literally make you lose your voice – especially if public speaking doesn’t come naturally to you. This is your body’s fight or flight response, and it is there to help warn you that there may be imminent danger ahead. While meetings may feel like you are being thrown to the sharks, there is usually no physical harm, so instead, try and use this energy for good.
Amy Cuddy’s famous TED Talk, “Make Stress Your Friend”, shares how stress can be used as a motivating factor to increase performance. The minute we think of stress as a good thing, designed to make us aware that something important is coming, our body reacts differently – and performs better.
Once you have reminded yourself that the feelings are simply your body’s way of telling you something matters, engage in some deep breathing exercises about 10 minutes prior to allow your body and mind to be fully oxygenated ahead of the meeting. As your body calms, you will find you experience greater clarity of thought. Also try drinking a glass of water, as the process of drinking requires your body to shift into a more relaxed state ahead of what’s to come.
Do your homework – read, research, and evaluate what the meeting is about
Being unprepared for a meeting is almost certain to make you feel nervous and filled with self-doubt. So, what can you do ahead of the meeting to feel prepared and in control?
Read the agenda - understand the topic and the required outcome. Think about what you need to give and get from the meeting.
Understand your role – are you expected to present, participate, be informed, make decisions? If it isn’t clear, make sure you ask the meeting organiser. Once you understand your role, you can spend some time prior to make sure you are ahead of what may follow.
Know the attendees – make sure you understand who else has been invited and their role. That way you can factor their needs and opinions into potential meeting requirements.
Speak to your boss – make sure you’re on the same page
When you attend a meeting, you are often representing your team, your colleagues, and your boss. The last thing you want to do is undermine your boss publicly in front of others or look like you aren’t on the same page. Aside from lacking etiquette, this is a career-limiting move.
Research shows that 57 per cent of employees feel they don’t receive clear directions and 69 per cent of managers are not comfortable communicating with their employees – which could be a recipe for disaster if you are representing your boss in a meeting.
The solution though, is very simple. Before you spend hours on a presentation or attend a meeting, book in some time to run your ideas and positions by them. This is really important – particularly if you will be asked to provide instructions and advice to meeting participants. Not only will you avoid any unexpected surprises and awkward conflicts, but you will also feel more confident when you go into the meeting, knowing your boss has your back.
Ask to speak first at the meeting – it will alleviate your nerves and elevate your credibility
Apart from the fact that research shows speaking first makes you a more successful participant in the meeting, there are other reasons why you should put your hand up for the leading role:
1. If you are already nervous, speaking first means avoiding having your nerves climb up the anxiety ladder while you wait your turn.
2. It makes you appear confident by taking the lead and gives you the opportunity to set the tone.
3. You get the most challenging part of the job done first – meaning you can sit through the meeting comfortably, think of suggestions, questions, and feedback – rather than worrying about your turn to speak.
Body-talk and posture – how you sit sends unspoken messages about your confidence
While your words are important, 55 per cent of the message you send is communicated through your body language. Studies have shown good posture makes people appear more confident and makes them more admired and influential within their social circles. Further, the way you sit can help keep your body oxygenated and help maintain a sense of calm.
While good posture is not something that can change overnight, there are some basic steps you can try to stick to and guarantee a confident presence.
1. Stand or sit straight – make sure you relax your limbs rather than be rigid or stiff in the meeting.
2. Act naturally – be comfortable, move around and own your space. For example, if you’re standing, work the floor and be confident and if you are sitting, sit comfortably, so you’re not slouching or fidgeting.
3. Eye contact – maintain enough eye contact without gazing directly at one person for long periods of time.
If you have been invited – your opinion and input is wanted and valued
In most cases, the organiser has invited you because your opinion and expertise are wanted and appreciated. So, the invite in itself should give you a boost of confidence before you head into the meeting.
Suppose you don’t feel confident speaking on the agenda topic. In that case, you can either get your knowledge up to scratch (do the preparation homework) or suggest a more experienced subject matter expert from your team take your place. Whatever you do, avoid bluffing your way through the meeting by waffling on and using jargon or buzzwords, which could waste your colleagues time and see them lose respect for you.
If you are faced with a situation in a meeting where you don’t have the facts, data, or information you need to share an opinion, let the meeting host know you will have to get that information after the meeting and come back to the group. While that may cause a delay, it is far better for everyone than the consequences of making a poor decision based on poor information.
Listen and ask questions – because that’s how confident people learn
While you may want to be the first to speak at the meeting, you’ll want to know when to stop, listen – and ask the questions. According to speaker, author and LinkedIn influencer Jeff Hadden, truly confident people are ‘quiet and unassuming’, and they ask lots of open-ended questions. They like giving people the opportunity to speak freely and openly and they do so because they genuinely want to learn more about other people, their experiences, and their perspectives.
So, after you’ve spoken your turn, sit and listen – better yet, write questions you can ask when the opportunity arises. You will come across as confident, and your interest in the other participants’ responses can ignite a discussion that will bring more innovative and creative ideas.
Be yourself – it’s the best way to connect with people
Speech trainer John Bowe says too many people think public speaking is about sounding smart. They overburden their natural way of speaking with all sorts of fancy words and phrases, which can be jarring and come across as unnatural.
Connecting with your words is all about being your authentic self. You can remain professional while letting your natural personality shine through. Weave in some of your natural flair through your speech or presentation; it will allow you to connect on another level with your audience.
To further connect with your meeting participants and to have an effective meeting – one where there is interaction and discussion – try to tailor your content.
If you are working with an audience largely driven by numbers, then using facts, data and statistics will get them excited. If you are working with an audience of creative people, having visuals will help them engage. If you are working with senior leaders, know they have only got time and headspace for short, sharp facts, so think about how you can convey your message succinctly.
• Allow yourself 10 minutes prior to the meeting for some deep breathing exercises.
• Do your homework to ensure you know your role and are armed with the information you need.
• Speak to your boss and make sure you are on the same page prior to the meeting.
• Ask to speak first at the meeting as it helps reduce nerves and elevate your credibility.
• Show confidence through your body language.
• Tailor your content to your audience for greatest effectiveness.
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