“I blew it. Again. It’s too late.” Sad words from a client of mine.
Let me back up for a moment.
My client Sally was in a project meeting when her manager asked for some input. And before she could even think it through, “that guy” was already laying out his plan for what everyone should be doing.
You know “that guy”, the one who has the “meh” ideas, but somehow gets all the limelight. The one who everyone seems to listen to, come to, and look up to, for no apparent reason.
Meanwhile you’re the one who takes time to think things through, you’re the one who looks at the pros and cons, you’re the one who can lay out a great plan.
It happens to a lot of people
The truth is, it’s not about “that guy”. Yes, he’s able to bring his ideas to light and get everyone on board by being the most-willing to speak up. But here’s the secret. So can you.
Even if you’ve always had a hard time with this, you have the power to change things. You have the power to speak in a way that makes people listen. And it comes down to practice.
Here’s where to start:
“You have the power to change things. It just takes practice” – Image source
1. Practice preparing
In essence, get a headstart on processing the information, forming opinions, and asking questions before you’re on the spot. That way, you can be fully present in the meeting and speak up when you’re ready to (instead of overthinking every detail.)
It really helps to get key thoughts or questions down on paper too. I often recommend asking your manager or whoever’s holding the meeting for an agenda. You should also ask what are some key things to think through prior to coming. (Don’t worry about asking, it actually shows initiative on your part.)
For some people, speaking up in meetings takes as much preparation as a huge speech. But don’t worry, it will get easier before you know it.
2. Practice jumping in
A lot of people don’t speak up because they don’t find the right moment to do it. Especially if someone has hijacked the conversation and isn’t willing to give up the spotlight.
Before you know it, everyone agrees to a half-formed solution while a better option – the one you wanted to suggest – wasn’t even heard.
If that happens to you a lot, I recommend you practice jumping in. In the moment, it may be too hard to find the right spot and say it with enough conviction to have people truly hear you. So I recommend practicing saying something like “can I jump in for a sec?” at home in front of the mirror.
Practice until you can say it without quivering and with enough strength that you know you’ll be heard but you still feel natural saying it.
3. Practice by speaking up in other ways
Some of my clients tell me that the first place they see improvement is through email. At first that made me feel like a bad public speaking coach. And then I realized that my clients are just finding their voice at their own pace.
How you “sound” in email should be a reflection of how you want to sound in general.
If you find yourself overly meek and apologetic, or if you avoid saying something altogether, take a moment to write out what you want to say, how you want to say it.
Before you know it, speaking those words will feel effortless.
4. Practice in in low-stakes situations
For people who have a really hard time saying anything at all, I recommend they practice speaking with a new sense of conviction in low-stakes situations.
Instead of walking up to your boss with a bold proposition, maybe start by having a friendly chat with the cashier. Challenge yourself to show up in a new way, the way you’d like to be seen from now on, and try it on for size.
If you don’t like it, you can just pretend it never happened. But if you do – well there you go. Keep on practicing until you’re confident enough to bring it to work.
If you want to start speaking so that people listen – you owe it to yourself to make it happen. And it won’t happen without practice.