Do you sit in meetings feeling anxious about what you contribute or wondering if it’s the best use of your time? Have you ever sat waiting to get a word in and then the meeting is over before you’ve had a chance to speak? I think, for too many people, meetings get in the way of getting the important work done. After running a workshop on speaking up and making the most of meetings last week, I thought I’d put my top tips for better meetings down in a blog.
Say no to meetings
I know this might sound controversial but it’s perfectly acceptable to say no to a meeting request. Even if it’s from a very senior important person. Your time is important – you only have a certain number of hours in the day and you must use them wisely. Meetings can suck huge chunks out of your day. So before you say yes make sure that you are clear on the following:
- What is the purpose of the meeting? What does success look like? For example, to discuss the blah project and decide on timelines, roles and responsibilities.
- Understand your role in the meeting – why are you invited, what are you there for? If it’s just for information, I’d challenge if you need to be there. Could you get updated on the ‘information’ in a more time effective way like on an email or a quick briefing? Only when you are clear on the purpose of the meeting and your role can you make a decision on whether it’s a good use of your time to attend.
- If you’re calling the meeting, clearly brief the meeting attendees on the purpose of the meeting and their role. Consider how long the meeting needs to be. Often we just keep talking until the hour is up. A quick-fire meeting could last 10 minutes and if you all stand up it can make it even quicker.
- I’m a big fan of walk and talk meetings because they are quicker, it creates a
better dynamic than staring at someone across a desk and walking is proven
to help your thinking.
Do you ever lose your confidence? Be prepared.
Confidence is something that comes and goes and you have to be deliberate about keeping your confidence tank topped up otherwise it can run empty. When it comes to confidence for speaking up in meetings here are my top tips.
- Prepare for the meeting – if you know why you’re going and what’s expected of you, you can do a bit of research. When you know your topic it helps you to feel more confident.
- Give yourself time to breathe. Quite literally, take a few minutes to breathe properly before you go into a meeting. Breathe in and count to four and breathe out and count to four. Repeat.
- Prepare – be early, bring water (for those nervous croaky throat moments) and go to the bathroom.
- Turn up to work every day dressed appropriately for a surprise meeting with the most important person in the organisation, this way you are always prepared.
- If you believe the research by Amy Cuddy, your body language can change your physiology and make you feel more confident. In your meeting pay attention to your body language. Sit up straight, shoulders . back, head upright. Don’t fidget and maintain eye contact.
- Demonstrate you are actively listening by leaning in. Make eye contact. Use the phrase ‘yes and’ and words from part of the previous sentence when responding to show that you’re really listening.
- Often we doubt ourselves, the critical voice in our head tells us we don’t know anything and we’re going to get found out. Form an answer in your head compared to what other people are saying in the meeting and when you start to realise that your answers are similar to other peoples it can help to build confidence.
- Use a technique called anchoring. Remember a time when you felt confident, it could be a work or a personal situation. Remember how you felt in that moment. Practice reconstructing that moment in your mind to tap recreate those feelings of confidence. There’s more on anchoring here.
I always miss my opportunity to speak
It’s happened to the best of us, you hesitate, miss your moment, someone else speaks up, the moment passes and you don’t get to speak at all. You leave feeling a bit disappointed. When it comes to making sure you contribute I advise:
- Give yourself permission to interrupt, remember you have been asked to the meeting for a purpose, It’s your job to contribute.
- Lean into the meeting and raise your hand to indicate that you have something to contribute and make eye contact with the meeting chair.
- Buddy up with an assertive person and work with them to introduce you, for example they might say something like ‘Dave had a good point about this topic’ providing you with a clear opportunity to speak.
- Remember why you’re there – to share insight based on your unique set of skills and experience. It’s important for the outcomes of the meeting that you contribute.
I’m just too anxious to speak
For some, it can be incredibly daunting to speak up in a meeting and many people feel way out of their comfort zone doing it. If you ever feel like it’s just too scary to speak up, here are my tips:
- Take small steps to get out of your comfort zone. For example, you might start by agreeing with someone else’s opinion as a way to find your voice rather than making a lengthy point yourself.
- Ask more questions or ask for clarification. We can often feel anxious by asking what we feel might be a ‘stupid question’. In my experience, if you have a question you won’t be the only one and having the courage to ask it does everyone a favour.
- Get networked – get to know people in the room, which can make speaking up less intimidating.
- Tell someone else your thoughts ahead of time so they can introduce you.
- Remind yourself that you are separate from the issue and you’re there to share your unique views to help move a situation or project along or come to the best conclusion on a problem.
- Practice speaking up anywhere and everywhere, with friends, family and strangers. For example, when you order your coffee, at the supermarket or in the lunch queue. Say hello, start a conversation, talk about the weather it doesn’t really matter what you say. All these small steps add up to building your confidence for speaking up in meetings.
When I do speak I mess it up
Part of the fear around speaking up in the first place is that we’ll fail or get it
wrong. We perhaps fear that we’ll not represent ourselves well or ‘do ourselves
justice’ and this makes us feel bad. If this resonates with you then my tips are:
- Speak in headlines – short direct sentences – this helps to stop rambling, which can easily happen when we’re nervous.
- Listen in to your tone of voice and be careful not to end your sentences (that are not questions) with a questioning tone.
- Don’t apologize, watch out for ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and don’t use filler words or words that do yourself down including, ‘just’ and ‘I could be wrong’
- Take notes and write down what you’re going to say.
- Set yourself goals, think about the most important information you bring to the meeting and set yourself a goal to just say that one thing.
- Leverage your expertise and refer back to it when you speak. For example quote research or a time you’ve experienced something similar with great results.
Let’s agree to ban pointless meetings that suck great chunks of the day and exchange them for enjoyable, effective places where you can thrive. Aim to get the desired results in the shortest time freeing you up to achieve your task list and go home on time. If you have more tips for making meetings great again please
do share them below. Let me know how you get on.
If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results.