How many times have you been in a situation where you wanted to speak up in a meeting and bring up a suggestion that could help the business, but you held back because of the fear of speaking up? Well, we have all been in this kind of situation. Speaking in meetings for many people does not just come naturally. This is something that must be worked on and the more you practice the better and more confident you get.
For me personally, the hardest part was beginning to practice speaking up. However, as I have been working since my early twenties in an environment that requires speaking up in and asking questions in meetings, I could say I was lucky enough to start practicing this early in my career. But this does not mean that I do not sometimes still have the fear of speaking up in meetings, especially when I need to challenge opinions of C-levels.
Being Nervous before Speaking Up?
I would say fear or being nervous before speaking up is something which is normal, but we should not allow that fear to stop us from speaking. Unfortunately, I often see the latter being the case, especially for females who are at an early stage of their careers. In general women, due to the fact that we have often been socialized not to be too loud or too assertive, usually have more difficulties speaking up and challenging senior executives.
You may be among those women who have a voice in their head that says: Should I mention this idea? Will they like it? Should I speak now or wait? How should I phrase what I want to say?
Well, let me tell you that many women feel the same but one important thing is that successful women have found a way to speak up despite the voice in their head. And the good news is that if you want to practice, there are many ways to silence the negative voice that appears before speaking up.
With that in mind I wanted to share with you a few strategies that have helped me to speak up in my meetings:
I am in the meeting because they want to hear my opinion
If I am spending my time in a meeting, then I want the best return on the investment for my time. This means I actively listen and if I have something to say I will say it.
So, instead of wondering if I should say something and what to say I shifted my mindset to start thinking of my time as a precious investment. And let’s face it – time is something we cannot gain back! Hence, instead of getting to the meeting with a mindset such as: Oh, another useless meeting… I stopped this kind of thinking and started to go to meetings with the intention of being proactive. After all, if I am on the invite list then they do want to hear me and my opinions.
When you change your perspective and shift your mindset to see meetings as something which are positive and beneficial, you will change your behavior in your meetings too.
One technique that really helped me was the question I would ask myself before the meeting which was: Are you going to be more disappointed if you speak up or if you stay silent?
For me, every time I had an idea but would not speak up because of fear I would feel like I had betrayed myself afterwards. However, when I spoke up – and even if others did not like my idea – I would always say to myself: Well done, you were brave enough to speak up.
Of course, there are some meetings (especially if you have many of them) where you won’t say anything, but it is important to distinguish which are the meetings which are important for you to speak up in, and also to make sure that there are more meetings where you spoke up than not.
I can totally relate to women who have a big fear of speaking up and who would rather remain silent in meetings than speak up. However, I would say if you want to progress in your career you need to find a way to be vocal in meetings and to express your opinion.
If you really struggle a lot to speak then my advice as a first step is to try to understand what holds you back. Are you afraid because you worry too much that colleagues won’t like your suggestions and that you will look incompetent, or is the driver of fear something else?
Once you understand your fear better, it is a good idea to list down strategic ways of overcoming it.
By that I mean setting up goals which you can undertake step by step. For example, at the beginning one of your goals could be to speak up at least once a week – this can be something as simple as asking a question or sharing some simple thoughts on the discussion in the meeting.
When setting up a goal and being more strategic about gaining confidence in your meetings you might start with even smaller steps. These will still bring you big results at the end of the day, and you will see at some point that you will be fully engaged in meetings without having a fear of speaking up.
Think about consequences of not speaking up
Another strategy that can help you with having more courage to speak up is to think of what happens if you do not speak up. It might be that you disagree with one idea that has been discussed in the meeting and if you stay silent people will think you are okay with this idea. Ultimately, it comes down to whether staying quiet is an option as you could be sending the wrong signal by staying quiet. Sometimes, as mentioned, you need to ask yourself if being silent is in line with who you want to be as a person.
If you desire to grow within your organization and want to be seen as someone who can be a leader, then visibility is an important factor. And gaining visibility means speaking up and expressing your opinion. So, one of the consequences of not speaking up and remaining silent can also be fewer growth opportunities for you within the organization you work for.
In a nutshell, of course speaking up can be scary but what happens if you do not speak your mind? Maybe this is even scarier!
If you want to be a person who is brave, speaks her mind and stands for what she believes in – then you need to find a way to overcome the fear of speaking up in meetings.
Try different techniques as this is how you will find the one that helps you the most. And do not forget to practice, practice, practice: this is how you will overcome fear and become a confident person in your meetings.
Remember that many people have been in the place you are right now and what helped the most was trying different techniques and practicing speaking as often as possible. One day you will realize the negative voice in your head is not there anymore, and the feeling of confidence you will have is just the most rewarding feeling you can ever imagine.