You’ve probably been in a meeting where you didn’t feel comfortable speaking up. For some reason, you weren’t quite on the same page as your colleagues and so you spent your energy getting up to speed, rather than contributing.
It happens, but so long as it’s not a regular occurrence, it’s not a huge deal. (In fact, if you felt like you could lead every discussion with your eyes closed, you’d probably be bored.)
But sitting back and saying nothing becomes a problem when it happens too frequently. People can interpret it in any number of bad ways—including that you don’t care or that you don’t have any good ideas. And clearly, those are reputations you absolutely don’t want.
So, what can you do if you’re having trouble speaking up—and not just on occasion?
You’re probably expecting to read some strategies to build your confidence: power posing in advance, eliminating filler words, and reminding yourself that your ideas are valuable. And those things can be helpful.
But there’s a step you need to take before you pump yourself up.
As best-selling author Seth Godin succinctly puts it:
Do your homework.
Before you click out because “come prepared” is obvious advice and clearly something you do—be honest with yourself. How often have you just glanced at an agenda on your way to a meeting? Or printed out materials but found yourself so busy that you never actually read them? Or let your eyes glaze over as you skimmed an attachment?
When you present something to your team, you make sure to do your homework. But the mistake too many people make is to skip over this step when they’re an attendee. So read the materials, or if there are none, do a little research on the topic (for example, is it a meeting on a site redesign? Check out what your competitors’ current homepages include and note what you like). Try to set aside five minute before any meeting to brainstorm and see if you can come up with at least one idea or question.
It’ll not only give you the confidence to raise your hand, but also the confidence to skip prefacing a suggestion with, “This is totally half-baked, but…”
And yes, doing your homework will mean you need to put in a bit more time before upcoming meetings. But, if the trade-off is that you finally get to spend them confidently sharing your ideas, being heard, and improving your reputation—isn’t that worth it?