I hate talking in meetings. Even “hate” may not be a strong enough word. Everyone watches you talk, judging every word you say, waiting to pounce on something with which they may disagree. You have to convince everyone of your expertise, become vulnerable, and sometimes you even have to speak above the loudest voices in the room. It’s enough to turn even the biggest extrovert into an introvert.
That’s actually my secret to being able to engage in meetings. You can become an extrovert by following many of the traits introverts have when it comes to a conversation. I listen first. I process all of the information that is coming my way. Then I speak only when I have a well-thought opinion that can influence the discussion in what I believe will be a positive way.
There are other ways that can help you engage confidently with others during a meeting when you don’t really want to say anything. Here are some of the methods that help me and hopefully they’ll be of help to you as well.
#1. Do your prep work before the meeting. It always comes down to your information. If you don’t know what’s going to be discussed at a meeting, then you’re going to have a steep learning curve in a chair that will probably be uncomfortable. Take an hour or two before the meeting, go through the information that will be discussed, and you’ll be able to think on your feet – or in your seat – more effectively.
#2. Be forthright. There will be questions that someone may ask that you cannot answer right away in a meeting. Instead of trying to fake it to make it, try offering a honest approach. I like to say something like this: “That’s a great question. I’ll need to think through that for a bit to give you a good answer.” You can ask people to come back to you. You can say you need time to research the subject. If you need extra time, I’ve found there’s nothing wrong in asking for it.
#3. Practice your public speaking. Whether you’re in a meeting with 5 people or 500 people, the butterflies in your stomach will float around when it’s time to make a presentation. This is why I make sure there is time to practice my presentation before I have to make it. My family are often my first draft volunteers, but I also try to make sure I have a dress rehearsal with some trusted co-workers. This way I can get feedback, know where my stumbling points are, and be able to reinforce my confidence. I also highly recommend Toastmasters.
#4. Learn to ignore your discomforts. Some people get so worked up that they get sweaty or red in the face when they have to speak in meetings. I’ve even met folks who break out in hives – as if they were allergic to speaking during a meeting. People go to meetings for ideas. They’ll ignore your discomfort if you can present a solid idea. As you get more comfortable, these physical symptoms will typically disappear as well. Take a few deep breaths, push forward, and you’ll find people are listening more than they are looking.
#5. Contribute by asking questions. Sometimes there really isn’t anything for me to say during a meeting, but I might be asked to contribute anyway. In those times, I like to ask questions about what I’ve heard. I always write down a question or two so I can start a discussion if called upon and this helps as it seem like I’m speaking when in reality I’m encouraging others to speak instead.
You can hate meetings, but still get a lot out of them with the right approach. Take the lessons learned from the introverts and use that to be an extrovert when needed at your next meeting, even if you don’t want to be there.
How do you handle dealing with difficult speaking situations at work? I’d love to hear about some of your strategies and coping mechanisms and how you use them.