04 Oct HOW TO SPEAK UP IN SCARY MEETINGS
Have you ever had a meeting in the diary that looms over you? The formal board room environment. The senior audience. A sense of being judged, examined, tested. And potentially found wanting?
These meetings can be a uniquely unpleasant experience. Clients regularly tell me (at even the most senior C-Suite levels) how much they dread them with every sinew.
You get into the room and everyone fights for air space and they all sound so confident (even if afterwards you can’t remember a word they said). You want to speak up and then you miss your moment and the conversation veers off and you can’t keep up, or bring it back on track. And then you worry you haven’t said anything so you speak up and your voice sounds weird and maybe you said something stupid. You wish you hadn’t. Then someone asks you a question and because you’ve been beating yourself up you haven’t been listening.
In my rather unscientific anecdotal research (i.e. listening to clients talk about their worries) this vicious circle of fear and loathing in board rooms is a very, very common experience.
And here’s what I’ve learned about making sure you keep your centre and stay confident.
Be Purposeful: Set your focus – one clear outcome to achieve. It can be as small as, to get a smile, to win the attention and respect of X, or as big as to get the deal. It gets you into a flow state – the nirvana of sporting heroes and business titans alike. The focus stays in the game / meeting, rather than in your head. It allows you to be, what the improvisation guru Neil Mullarkey calls “intentive” (intention + attentive = intentive).
Be Prepared: Don’t veer from meeting to meeting. Give yourself 15 minutes between each one. Turn off your phone. Get calm, centred. Relax. Go for a quick walk if you have time. Mull on what your audience need from you. Keep it positive – how can you help them?
Join the Dots: So often meetings become a pointless point scoring exercise. And a massive waste of everyone’s time. When they go low you go high. Do what my wise friend Joanna Motion calls “joining the dots”. Listen for the common threads, notice the patterns and themes emerging. When you speak build on the threads that others are creating, so you weave the meeting together rather than talking at each other.
Yes And: A tool that helps you join the dots is the powerful phrase from improvisation “yes and”. When you want to speak, build on the previous idea with a “Yes, Peter, great point, and…..” It allows you to flow gracefully into the conversation without feeling that you are interrupting.
Own the room: And finally, when you speak, make sure you own the room. It’s like driving in city traffic, you have to do it with confidence, or other people won’t make space. Be bold. Sit up, feet grounded. Press your arms gently into the chair or table to give your voice power. Send your voice to the back of the room (no muttering or whispering). Be concise, framing, a maximum of three ideas and a summary. Then close mouth and go back to intentive listening. It’s all about the quality, not the quantity!