In my last blog, I discussed why people might not listen to you when you speak. I hope you found this helpful. (In case you missed it, here is the link: https://lawstrategycorp.com/can-you-hear-me-now.) This post is directed towards those who don’t speak up due to anxiety or fear. The fear of speaking up can be paralyzing, frustrating and limiting. We all know that the ability to communicate our thoughts, ideas, and opinions clearly to your peers, clients, prospects and even friends is an essential skill. So how do you overcome this fear and speak up more effectively? Here are a few ideas:
1. Practice the Pause – For many, the fear of speaking up is based on a past bad experience. We’ve all made fools of ourselves by speaking up too quickly or not listening to the end and finding that our input is irrelevant or maybe even inappropriate. I coach clients to “practice the pause.” In other words, wait two to three seconds before you speak up. Think and organize your thoughts before speaking. The pause will also help you become calmer, more confident in what you are conveying and give you an opportunity to weigh if you should speak up at all.
2. Anticipate, Practice and Prepare – If you know you are going to a meeting and you have ideas to share, anticipate what you want to say. Write your ideas down, say them out loud, use a mirror to view yourself speaking, and determine if you sound and look convincing and confident. If you do not, you may need to reevaluate your ideas or run them by a close peer.
Once you are prepared, get to the meeting early, sit close to the leader, use great posture and have your notes in front of you. Look for an opportunity to share your idea or simply state your idea at an appropriate time during the meeting. When you anticipate, practice and prepare, your confidence will be evident, and your ideas will have more credibility.
3. Turn Your Fear into Positive Energy – Many have a great thought on the tip of their tongue, but when given a chance to speak up, their hands become sweaty, their heart pounds and their throat becomes dry. Their idea may be fantastic, but their fear is overwhelming. It’s maddening to them and extremely frustrating. If you know your body reacts in this way, try to turn these physical triggers to your advantage. For example, if your heart starts to pound, which means your body is releasing epinephrine and feeling threatened, embrace it! Using your mental bandwidth, tell yourself the increased blood flow is making you feel more dynamic and will make you sound more powerful. If your palms are sweaty, reframe this reaction by understanding your body sweats to cool down. So, tell yourself you are cool and calm and believe your body is helping you not hurting you. Okay, you may not want to shake hands, but your bodies natural reactions, once you understand them and embrace them, can help you make your point.
4. Take a Class – If your fear of speaking up is keeping you from reaching your goals, do something about it. Groups like Toastmasters (https://www.toastmasters.org) provide tremendous value and an opportunity to connect with others who share your fear in a safe environment.
If you don’t want to take a class, find a mentor or coach (I did this!) to help you become a more effective communicator. Make sure they understand your goals and fears and are honest and direct enough to give you not only feedback on how you are communicating, but also can instruct you on how to improve.
If a coach or mentor won’t work, go to YouTube or the library and find a video or book. Matt Abrahams has excellent video content (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAnw168huqA) I have found helpful, and my favorite book on communication skills is titled Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. There are many tools available to improve your communication skills, and there is no excuse for not taking advantage of these if your goal is to become a better communicator.
5. You Deserve to Be Heard – Believe you deserve to be heard. Relax, breath, sit up straight and spit it out! Actress Julia Roberts, investor Warren Buffett, and President Abraham Lincoln all suffered a fear of speaking up. You are not alone! However, you can overcome this fear with some work. Consider your audience. What you have to say may be the most fabulous idea offered or make a lasting impression on someone. Focus on your value and the value of your message instead of your fear.
Fear of speaking up is real and palatable, but you can conquer this fear if you work to do so. Failure to tackle this fear can be devastating to your success over time. Additionally, this fear can lead to frustration and a feeling your opinions are not worthwhile, but that is not true! Your voice matters and can make a difference. So, allow your voice to be heard! Till next time!