One of the best ways to practice your public speaking skills is by speaking up in a meeting. Many of our clients say that if you’re in the room for a meeting, you are expected to add your voice to the conversation. But if you’re in front of high-stakes clients or senior leaders, speaking up can be nerve-wracking.
Here are some tips to help you feel comfortable and confident when speaking up:
Come prepared to speak. One executive we work was deathly afraid of public speaking early in her career, so she decided to come to every single meeting prepared with a comment she would make or a question she would ask. She is now an incredibly confident speaker and the head of her organization.
Ask the 3 Questions in advance (Who is your audience, what is your goal, why you?). Come up with 2-3 points you could make or questions you could ask. Don’t write a script, just bring bullet points. Run those questions/comments by a coworker in advance to make sure they move the discussion forward.
Ask the meeting head in advance. If you’re afraid you won’t be able to jump into the conversation, let the person leading the meeting know you’d like to make a point. Ask them to call on you during the meeting so you can confidently respond.
Be fully present and listen to others. It’s easy to get distracted thinking about what you’re going to say and not listen to what’s actually being said in the meeting. Stay present and you will hear a chance to jump in. You’ll also get a chance to redirect the conversation if it’s going off-topic.
Use deep breathing. If you’re nervous about speaking up, deep breathing will both calm you down and give your voice resonance so that when you do speak, your voice is strong and confident.
Wait for a pause in the conversation. Many meetings will move rapidly and you might not know when to jump in. If someone has been rambling, wait for them to take a breath and then use our next suggestion.
Compliment and build. When you have to interrupt someone, one way to soften the impact is to compliment what they’ve just said. If Steve has been rambling off topic and you sense others in the meeting are getting impatient, you can jump in with something like, “I appreciate Steve’s perspective and I’d like to come back to something we said earlier.”
Be clear and concise. Once you do have the floor, make sure your comments are clear and to the point. Make one main point and provide one main example using the PREP framework. If you start to ramble, you lose your credibility and authority as a speaker. That’s why we recommend preparing in advance.
Get rid of minimizers and fillers. When jumping into a conversation, a transition word like “so” or “well” can be helpful up front. However, keep those fillers to a minimum or they will distract others. Also get rid of minimizers like, “I may be way off base here, but…” If you do need to hedge your comments, say something like, “We may want to consider…” which hedges your language but doesn’t diminish your idea.
Smile on the phone. If you’re speaking up on the phone, make sure you physically smile before you speak. Over the phone, your voice can come across more harshly than you intend. A smile literally makes you sound more confident and warmer which is particularly helpful if you’re interrupting someone.
Find allies. Especially if you are frequently interrupted during meetings, find allies in the room who can build you up. Someone could interrupt the interruptor by saying, “Hold on, let’s hear what she has to say,” or compliment and build on what you said earlier.
Be strategic about when you speak. Finally, remember to speak judiciously. If you constantly speak up without giving others an opportunity to do so, you monopolize the meeting time and reduce your credibility and authority. Give others a chance to speak just as you would want a chance.
Use these tools in an upcoming meeting and you will be able to practice your speaking skills every single day. Let us know how it goes!