“Be assertive, project your voice, make eye contact.”
It’s that easy, right? Wrong. Well, at least not for all of us.
Sharing your thoughts and opinions in meetings can be intimidating enough even before you start worrying about impressing bosses or clients. But what’s even worse is staying silent meeting after meeting, letting your great ideas go to waste and giving your colleagues the impression that you either don’t know what’s going on, or you just don’t care.
Instead, to show your coworkers your true value, here are some tips on how to develop confidence for speaking during meetings.
Practice makes perfect
It’s a cliché because it’s true—practicing something will make you better at that thing. The same goes for learning to speak confidently in groups.
Start by finding your voice in social situations like dinners or drinks with friends and build up to chatting with co-workers around the office or at lunch. This will help you become comfortable expressing your thoughts and help you realize that people are genuinely interested in what you have to say.
Then make a rule for yourself that you will speak at least once in every meeting and stick to it. While you may feel a little awkward the first few times, you will gradually build up your confidence and will soon be able to jump in whenever a good idea comes to mind.
You can also practice by answering questions in your head and seeing how they compare to what is said. This is particularly useful if you often attend senior-level meetings as a junior and are nervous about looking incompetent. As your responses become more and more like your bosses’, you’ll be confident to speak up knowing that you’ll be on the right track.
You don’t have to give a detailed diatribe on your plan to make the company millions right off the bat. Start by interjecting small remarks here or there.
Try making a trivial statement or asking a simple question, such as, “I agree, I think that’s a great idea,” or, “How did you come up with that?” Giving even just these short comments will make you look and feel more engaged.
When you aren’t speaking, you should still be involved in the conversation. Easy ways to do this are by taking notes, looking at who is talking, nodding when you agree and sitting up straight.
Know your stuff
If you can, check the meeting agenda or find out what topics will likely be covered and plan accordingly.
Look over recent reports or budgets, review projects you’re currently working on or go through your emails. Then prepare some comments ahead of time. Being well informed will not only make you look better, but will give you more confidence to speak up.
Doing your homework will also help you avoid needing to defer to your boss or colleague when asked a question, providing you with the opportunity to demonstrate your value within the organization and strength in your position.
It’s often difficult to find the appropriate time to interject your idea or opinion into a conversation. Therefore, it helps to speak up right away. This also lets you avoid someone else saying what you’re thinking and prevents the development of any self-doubt.
If you are interrupted, don’t be afraid to interrupt back, politely, of course. Try a, “Hang on, let me just finish.” If you continue to have a hard time getting a word in, consider asking to be added to the agenda.
So, now that you have some ways to improve on your confidence for speaking during meetings, take a deep breath, relax, and show them what you’re made of!
Ashleen Knutsen is a science writer and editor in Los Angeles. After a decade of experience in engineering and research, she decided to pursue a career in science communications to not only spark women and girls’ interest in STEM, but to let them know that they too can change the world.