In the early stages of my career, it was easy for me to avoid facing my fear of meetings. There was always a more senior person on the project, and they always had the right things to say. But I knew that if I wanted to advance my career and, frankly, grow up, I had to get over this silly fear.
Why Was I Afraid?
There were a few things that made me fear meetings. First of all, I was afraid that I would get asked a question that I wouldn’t immediately be able to answer. I was afraid if I didn’t know the answer, I would lose credibility, and the client would start to wonder why they hired a company with employees who didn’t have answers to all of their questions.
Second, I was afraid of being wrong. The only thing that could be worse than not having an answer was having the wrong answer.
Last, I’m still young. Maybe that played into my other fears, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I was giving recommendations to people much older and much more experienced than I am.
I knew that in order to defeat my Meeting Bogeyman, I had to devise a plan. Here are the three steps I used to overcome my irrational fear of meetings.
This step may seem obvious to some, but it proved to be the most helpful. I think I had seen so many of my superiors “wing it” in meetings that I began to think I didn’t need to prepare for them, either. What I came to realize is that they weren’t really winging it at all; they were drawing on their years of experience.
On top of that, for most meetings, they had prepared an agenda and put some thought into each item on that agenda. But I wasn’t in control of that agenda, and I didn’t have the years of experience to draw upon. So I started setting aside 15 minutes before each meeting to prepare. If there was an agenda, I would read it and jot down relevant notes for each topic.
To help calm my fear of being stumped by a question, I tried to put myself in the client’s shoes and anticipate the questions I might be faced with for each topic.
That 15 minutes not only helped me become less afraid, it also helped me become more engaged in meetings.
2. Control Your Voice and Vocabulary
My fears of being stumped and being wrong came across clearly when I talked in meetings. When answering questions, I used weak terms like “I think,” “maybe,” and “probably.” When I spoke, my tone was unsure, I mumbled, and I rambled. Those actions are a recipe for having even your best thoughts questioned or completely overlooked.
Preparing for meetings allowed me to focus more on the delivery of my ideas during the meeting. Because I was prepared, I wasn’t searching for an answer in my head while at the same time trying to articulate that not-yet-found answer. I made a conscious effort to cut out the weak language I used when conveying my thoughts.
I also focused on my breathing when I was replying to a question. Most of the time, I was short of breath, which was my cue that I was talking too fast.
The final step is more of a realization after achieving the first two steps. Once I had started preparing and being more engaged in meetings, I began to realize that a meeting is not a test of my credibility or intelligence. Instead, the point of a meeting is for both sides to collaborate so they can gain a better understanding of the product and system and create a successful vision for it. That definition also made me more comfortable being transparent with a client when I wasn’t confident in my answer to a question.
Meetings can be big, scary beasts if you let them be. You can try to avoid confronting your fear of them, but eventually, you’ll have to face that fear. It is good to have a plan when you do. Hopefully, what I did will work for you too!