The workplace can be a difficult environment if you struggle with social anxiety. Meetings, in particular, can be a big challenge — the idea of voicing opinions and presenting ideas is enough to bring people out in a cold sweat.
Even for someone who only struggles with a mild fear of public speaking, meetings can prove tricky. Not only is there pressure to speak clearly and succinctly, but you’re also aware your performance is being judged by your peers, as well as people who have authority over you.
The stakes can also be high, which can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. If a meeting goes well, you may be in line for a promotion.
If social anxiety has a serious impact on your life, there are a number of steps you can take. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours. Talking therapies can help you pinpoint the root of your phobia and address the problem.
There are also helpful tips to make speaking up in meetings a little less daunting.
Many of us rush into a meeting at the last minute, but this can increase feelings of anxiety. Arriving early and getting used to the space can help you feel more calm. It’s good to have a chance to settle in to the meeting space, even if it’s a video conference and you’re working remotely. Give yourself time to get used to your microphone and webcam to avoid unnecessary stress.
It can be helpful to think about what you want to say before you go into the meeting, too.
“Prepare a response or a couple of responses in advance, and practice saying them out loud in advance. It will really help to practice speaking your words rather than just thinking about what you would say,” according to Felicity Dwyer, a member of the Life Coach Directory.
It may also help to write down what you want to bring up in a notepad, which you can take into the meeting. Jotting down bullet points gives you a prompt if the stress of speaking up leaves you blank.
However, it’s important to make sure you don’t sound robotic when speaking — or that what you’re saying sounds too rehearsed. It’s also good to play to your strengths. If you’re a good listener, than use this to your advantage. Responding carefully to other people’s remarks is a skill — you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room.
“To increase your confidence in speaking up, learn to ground yourself by settling into your chair, feeling your feet on the floor, and bringing your attention to your breath, noticing your breathing, and then slowing it down a little,” Dwyer said. “Making your exhale longer than your inhale will calm your nerves. And dropping your voice slightly at the end of a sentence will communicate greater gravitas and impact.”
Although it can be tempting to wait until the right minute to chime in, speaking up earlier in a meeting can help alleviate anxiety. Stress can build up because of the anticipation of waiting to speak, so it’s better to get it out of the way. Additionally, it can get more difficult to enter the conversation as a meeting goes on.
It can also be helpful to remind yourself why it’s useful to participate in a meeting. A 2014 survey of more than 600 employers found that “oral communication” and “presentation skills” were among the top four skills recruiters look for.
Despite this, an online survey of 2,031 US workers found that 12% of respondents would happily step aside to let someone else give a presentation, even if it cost them at work.
It’s easy to stay quiet and let others speak, but introducing new ideas, thoughts, and viewpoints is a great way to get noticed — which may help you get ahead.
If social anxiety is affecting your life in a negative way, it’s crucial to get help from a professional. Your GP will be able to point you towards appropriate support or treatment, or you could try contacting organisations such as Anxiety UK.