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If you want to advance your career, you need to be comfortable speaking up and voicing your opinion on conference calls. This is easier said than done.
As big feelers and deep thinkers, many Sensitive Strivers struggle to speak up and be heard on conference calls. They may feel talked over by their dominant colleagues. They tend to perseverate over saying the “right” thing and are fearful of coming off as uninformed. At best, this hesitancy detracts from your ability to contribute. At worst, it erodes your visibility and your confidence along with it. The more you hold back, the less likely you are to be seen as a competent, effective leader.
Getting your voice heard in meetings isn’t just a struggle for junior employees. In fact, I’ve had senior executives and leaders at nearly every leading company seek out coaching to improve their confidence while communicating.
There are a few reasons conference calls, in particular, are a challenge versus in-person meetings:
Without real-time, non-verbal feedback, your brain goes wild. You mentally “fill in the gaps” and assume the worst — that people aren’t receiving your message or they’re judging you negatively.
Sensitive Strivers tend to be reserved and they are more comfortable sitting back versus butting into a conversation to offer a point. Conference calls also require you to push back if someone interrupts or starts talking over you, which doesn’t come naturally to Sensitive Strivers.
There’s a lot to juggle on a conference call. You’re simultaneously trying to navigate technology, remember your key points and monitor the audience’s response. All this can leave your sensitive brain overwhelmed and distracted, which makes it harder to listen, be present and find an opportunity to jump in.
Nevertheless, your nature doesn’t have to hold you back from making a contribution. You need to be able to react and respond off-the-cuff with greater ease and make yourself visible on calls, even if it’s uncomfortable at first (and it will be!). In fact, your unique style, nuanced insights, and thoughtfulness is what position you to provide value and be the leader your team needs.
Every good meeting has an agenda. Set aside five to ten minutes, at least 24 hours in advance of the conference call, to review the key points. Look for an opportunity to pre-meditate what you will address. Choose a topic that is important to you and think about your viewpoint. Giving this some thought before the meeting will help you feel prepared. Write down your points so you remember them.
Once you know where you want to contribute, contact the organizer and let them know. That way, the organizer can “hand the baton” over to you at the appropriate time. This creates accountability for yourself and makes you look more credible and influential.
One advantage of conference calls is that you can keep notes open on your computer while you’re speaking. Use that to your benefit. Write down your high-level bullet points or questions you want to ask and keep them front and center during your call.
When I ask clients why they have trouble speaking up on calls, they typically say it’s because they don’t feel comfortable or familiar with the other people present. As sensitive people, they need a connection to feel safe and at ease. That’s why I tell them, preparing for a conference call happens long before you dial in. You need to make an effort to get to know your colleagues and counterparts outside of meetings. Getting over the hump of sharing your thoughts becomes much easier when you’re comfortable and have context on the other people in the “room.”
Make a point to dial in three to five minutes early. That way you can build rapport and warm up by making low-key conversation.
Sensitive Strivers are perfectionists. They put undue pressure on themselves to offer brilliant ideas. This backfires because you end up saying nothing at all unless it meets your unrealistically high standards. Instead, focus on simply building the muscle of speaking up first without the expectation to blow people away. Build on comments and ideas from your colleagues with your own substantial examples, case studies or viewpoints.
Challenge yourself to make a comment within the first five minutes of the call. The longer you wait, the harder it gets to speak up because one, you psych yourself out and two, other people start to contribute ideas you had.
Don’t let silence scare you. It’s normal to have gaps in conversation. It doesn’t mean you bombed. In fact, it might mean you left such an impact that people are processing what you’re saying. Expect that there will be lulls and be brave enough to acknowledge them, saying something like: “It seems like you’re all digesting what I just shared so I’ll give you a moment.” If you’re the one presenting, anticipate what questions people may have and come ready with a list of frequently asked questions. That way, you look exceedingly knowledgeable, as if you were reading their minds. It also positions you as “in charge” of the conversation and you’ll be able to skillfully smooth over silence.
Stand up when you speak or use a standing desk (if you’re not on video). Doing so will allow you to get more breath in your lungs and speak with deeper resonance, which subconsciously signals power. Because air and energy can flow through your body, you’ll sound and feel more authoritative. Standing up can also help you stay focused and embody confidence.
Painful? Yes. Useful? Absolutely. Evaluate yourself objectively. In your mind, imagine you are watching a play or the performance of someone else. Assess your body language, tone and delivery. Where are your hands positioned? Is your voice loud enough? Are you speaking too fast or too slow? If you’re normally soft-spoken, raise your volume by a notch on calls. Vary your pace and inflection so you sound as interested in the subject matter as you actually are. If you have a good relationship with your manager, you can share the recording with them and get their feedback, too.
Clear expectations are at the core of every productive conference call. Ground rules like “one person speaks at a time” help limit interruptions and people talking over one another. On video chat, ask that people mute themselves in the beginning and use the “raise hand” feature if they have something to contribute. If you’re the meeting leader, establish ground rules yourself. If you’re participating, suggest the organizer adopt ground rules to help the meeting run more efficiently.
If a co-worker does talk over you, address it immediately in a calm but direct way. If you don’t, the behavior will continue. You don’t have to be abrasive, a simple “Hey, I noticed you interrupted me a few times during the call. Can we talk about that and figure out how to avoid it in the future?” will suffice. Also, push back in the moment saying: “Hey Name, I’m speaking right now. Thanks” or “Hey name, let me finish."
A version of this article was originally published by Melody Wilding.