Public speaking is one of many people’s worst fears. Perhaps that’s why speaking out in a meeting can seem so scary. But with these simple ideas, you’ll be piping up in no time.
First, let’s take a quick look at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a tool used to help people with anxiety.
The BBC asked Colin Blowers, a CBT therapist, for advice on public speaking for a reality show called The Speaker, where they searched for the UK’s best young speaker. Here are some of his suggestions, with a pinch of my own thoughts added for good measure.
When you’re speaking, remember to breathe and try to keep your chest loose
If you tense up, you may tip towards hyperventilation, perhaps causing dizziness and a racing heart. You’re not trying to stay ‘calm’, you’re just aiming to stay loose in your body.
Don’t be afraid to speak slowly
Pause now and then to give yourself a chance to breathe. Speaking in a measured way also makes you look and sound more confident, as if you know you have the attention of the room and you’re at ease with the situation.
Tell yourself you want to be there
Nobody likes being in meetings, but having to speak at one or do a presentation is even worse. Telling yourself that you’re where you want to be will ease your stress. I’ve also read that re-framing your nervousness as excitement can really help and even make you perform better.
Now that we’ve covered some of the groundwork for the mindset you need to speak confidently, let’s have a gander at some tactics for making your voice heard in meetings. This time I’m learning lessons from an executive coach called Joel Garfinkle who’s worked with companies such as Google and Apple.
Have faith in your own ideas
You’ve been invited to the meeting, so people want you there and are interested in what you have to share. If they want to challenge something you say, they will do – but it’s not your job to do it for them.
Know what you want to talk about
If there’s an issue you need to draw attention to or something you need to point out, then have that in mind and do any research that’s needed. When that point comes up on the agenda you’ll be ready to speak.
Be one of the first people to speak
Garfinkle believe that speaking early – even if that’s just to agree with someone or adding a little bit of information to a point – is a good way to cut off feelings of doubt creeping in. If you wait for the perfect moment, you might never speak at all.
Ask questions of other people
This could be a question that’s designed to help them share an important point that you think they’ve overlooked, or to deepen your own understanding, but you’ll be more engaged and people will notice your commitment.
You Can Disagree
You may disagree with someone, but that’s OK. Meetings are about sharing and contrasting ideas. What you need to do is try to make that disagreement have a positive outcome, so the group ends up with a stronger idea. Stand up for yourself, just be diplomatic about it.
If all of this seems too daunting, practice speaking up or making a comment just once in every meeting, even if this is simply to agree with someone. This will give you the opportunity to find your voice; once you have done this a few times you’ll have developed the nerve to make a longer contribution to the discussion and you’ll be able to speak up when it really matters.