What’s your view of meetings? Are you an experienced meeting master, someone who hates them or somewhere in between?
Whichever camp you’re in, meetings are important opportunities to show others what you know, how you think and what you’re like. In many cases, meetings are where your colleagues and senior managers will spend the most time with you.
Yet, speaking up at meetings can be stressful and pressure-filled. And it’s no wonder because you’re “on the show” and has to perform at your best. But that way of thinking of meetings makes it hard to come across well, especially when you’re new to the team, role or company.
It can be downright nerve-wracking to put your point across and speak in a large gathering. And when it’s with a group of very experienced people and subject matter experts, that only adds to the nerves.
3 Steps to Speak in Meetings with Confidence and Authority
To speak in meetings with confidence and authority, here are three steps I’ve found helpful in my career. They’ve also helped my coaching clients and I’d love for them to help you too.
Step 1: Manage Your Mindset
Reframe the Meeting:
Instead of putting so much pressure on yourself to “perform” at meetings, how could you reframe them to be more energizing for you?
Could you think of meetings as places where you get to share your perspective? It can be extremely valuable to get a new person’s thoughts to keep “group think” from taking hold.
Or focus on being curious and learning…
Curiosity Rather Than Critique:
I like to come from a place of curiosity and contribution rather than critique. Remind yourself before each meeting that you’re there to learn as well as share your thoughts. It’s not about critiquing each other or yourself.
In my case, the critique was always harshest coming from myself. And that was a huge hit to my confidence. The conversations in my own mind were far worse than anything my colleagues had to dish out.
And that self-editing was ultimately harmful to my career because I came across as quiet and lacking in ideas as well as confidence. Hardly the mark of the future leader I wanted to be.
Defuse Your Fear:
Fear is the oldest part of your brain trying to protect you from harm. Seth Godin calls it the “Lizard Brain”.
It’s the self-protection instinct that kept your ancestors alive long enough to produce you. It means well, but now that there are no life-threatening saber-toothed tigers lurking out there, those native human instincts no longer serve us quite so well.
To defuse that natural instinct of fear, I recommend that you acknowledge it, thank it for doing its job, and tell it that it can go back now – you can take over from here.
The more I deny my fear, the louder it gets. So the better strategy is to face your fear, love it, and send it on its way.
Face your fear, love it, and send it on its way.
Step 2: Prepare Your Points
It helps to pre-prepare what points you want to make, especially if you want to establish yourself as an expert in your particular area.
Use the Rule of Three:
One way that’s worked well for me and for my clients is to use the “rule of three”. This comes from research that shows the human brain can only keep three ideas at a time. When you go beyond that, people won’t retain everything you say.
So make it a habit to bucket everything you want to convey into three main points. Or it could be just one point. But no more than three.
I find there’s an elegance to having three points – like the three legs of a stool, there’s stability about it.
Use Powerful Words:
When it comes to making your points, think about the words and phrases you want to use. Do they make your point powerfully or do they make you sound tentative? Which words and phrases do you want to use? And which do you want to avoid?
For example, “In my experience…” conveys authority while “I guess…” does not. If you’re talking to a group of analytical people, they’re more likely to respond well to “I think…” rather than “I feel…” whereas it would be the other way around for a more emotionally attuned group. And “I believe…” can work for both groups.
No Apology Language:
When you start with an apology like, “I may be completely off base but…”, you undermine everything that you say afterward. This is especially common for women.
Instead, get in the habit of going straight to your point without a long preamble that essentially says, “I don’t really know what I’m talking about but here goes anyway”.
Practice Out Loud:
There’s nothing like practicing out loud to help you feel confident in what you’re going to say. And no, it’s not enough to say it silently to yourself. There’s something about hearing yourself make the point that builds confidence when you get in the room and have to say it in front of others.
As one of my mentors told me, “you’re not nervous, you’re just unprepared.” Tough love is good love. Get practicing!
If you find it hard to break into the conversation during the meeting, especially if you’re on a conference call, ask the meeting organizer to give you a slot on the agenda. Or enlist the help of a colleague to ask for your input during the meeting.
Step 3: Stay Present to Spot Opportunities
Choose Your Spots:
Every meeting has three parts to it: the beginning, middle, and end. And the kind of comments and questions that happen in each part are a little different. The key is to recognize where you’re most comfortable speaking up.
- The beginning is an easy time to make a point because you can be sure no one else will have made it yet – it’s like walking on fresh snow. And if you’re nervous about speaking up like I was, then jumping in right away is key. I had to hear my voice in the room within the first 60 seconds of a meeting or else the “what if I say something dumb?” voice in my head would spiral out of control.
- The middle is a great time to build on someone else’s point (they’ll appreciate it!), share your three points, answer a question or ask a question. Open-ended questions are the best for inviting discussion. And if the group is getting stuck on an issue, you could ask an innovation question like, “what if…?” or “how might we…?” to unblock things.
- The end is a great place to show your authority by synthesizing and summarizing what’s been said and drawing the meeting to a close. This is also a more advanced way to contribute, so cut yourself some slack as you practice this skill.
The spot you choose may be different for the various meetings you attend, and it’s likely to change over time as you become more comfortable and as your role evolves.
So start to notice where you feel most at ease and make use of those opportunities to speak up.
Breathe and Move:
As you go through the meeting, a great way to keep your energy and confidence up is to manage your physiology. I find that breathing is the most important because your brain needs oxygen to function well and breathing rhythmically has been shown to calm the nervous system.
Physical movement is also helpful to reduce stress and manage your nerves. This could look like getting up to get something to drink or stretching while you’re in your chair.
It’s also about keeping good posture so you’ll look and feel more alert, and your voice will carry so you can be heard.
When it comes to managing your physicality, what’s worked well for me is to sit up straight, stretch one arm out to the side at a time, and roll my shoulders (they’ll think you’ve just been to the gym and need to stretch your muscles!).
Whatever movement you choose, keep it slow, smooth and purposeful.
Start Being the Authoritative You
When it comes to speaking up in meetings, what matters is that you jump in and start experimenting. The longer you stay silent in meetings, the harder it will feel to speak up. You’re going to be in a lot of meetings in your career, so why not get going and make friends with the experience?
Right now is the best time to stop listening to the voices of worry in your head and start practicing being authoritative you.
If you’re not speaking up because you haven’t prepared, then go prepare.
But if you’re not speaking up because you’re afraid, then it’s time to face your fear. When your fear shows up, acknowledge it and thank it for doing its job (after all, it’s just trying to protect you). Then send it back home because you don’t need it anymore.
When you’ve done the preparation, you can let go of the fear and step up into the voice of authority that lives within you.
Once you’ve spoken up, be sure to congratulate yourself no matter how you did. The point is, you’ve taken action and put yourself on the path to becoming someone who speaks in meetings with confidence and authority. So keep going!
Which of these strategies would most help you speak in meetings with confidence and authority if you put it into action now?