Do you dread meetings? If so, you’re far from alone. That meeting announcement memo can strike fear into the hearts of even the most dedicated professionals. If you find yourself feeling even the slightest reticence each time a meeting is called, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions by way of diagnosis:
- Do you think best when you’re by yourself?
- Do you do your best teamwork when with independently-motivated colleagues?
- Do you avoid conflict, small talk, and group situations?
- Do people have to drag your opinion out of you – even when you know it has value?
If the answer to these is mostly “Yes,” congratulations: you’re an introvert!
Introversion is not a sickness. It’s just that some people are introverts, and some are extroverts. More accurately, we each find ourselves somewhere along a spectrum of introversion-extroversion. But depending which end of the scale we’re on, we tend to have different strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.
A classic introvert preference is aversion to meetings. It may seem justified by the fact that the introvert skill set – one-on-one interaction, confidence to work alone, research and contemplation skills – does not lend itself to a conference room scenario. However, a truly professional introvert will learn to capitalize on those skills not just in their natural habitat, but in apparently unsuitable contexts such as the business meeting.
This potential is great news if you worry that your inability to engage with and excel at the meeting process is holding back your career. Let’s take a look at some steps you can take to turn that around.
#1 Form opinions in advance
So we know that introverts have a natural aptitude for research. In fact, this is part of a general tendency to think more clearly and do better work when it’s quiet and you’re alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, may think more sharply during the rapid back-and-forth of a brainstorming session.
As an introvert, you can use this knowledge to get your best thinking done before you even enter that room. Get hold of the agenda early, research the topics and the stats, and prepare some thoughts and ideas. You’ll find it much easier to cut in ahead of your outgoing colleagues if you have the confidence to state your take, and the material to back it up.
#2 Drink herbal tea
Here’s an insight that might surprise you: tanking up on coffee to get your verbal engines running at full pace before you enter the room may be counter-productive. It might end up fuelling your neuroses instead by over-stimulating you and making you jumpy.
Different things work for different people, but if you have a particular drink or exercise you do to relax, give it a whirl before your next meeting – and see how it impacts your feelings and behavior around the table.
#3 Be first to the meeting room
Build your confidence by getting used to the sound of your voice before you get started. Go over your ideas with a friend or partner so you get to hear them out loud. And show up early for the meeting so that you can build trust with your colleagues face-to-face as they arrive, instead of dreading that moment in the meeting when everyone notices you for the first time.
#4 Utilize body language
So the meeting’s started and you are already instinctively shrinking in your seat. Well, you thought you were going to have trouble communicating – but your body language is already screaming “don’t talk to me!”
Body language is a great opportunity to speak up to your colleagues without saying a word. Eye contact, nodding, and a proactive stance or sitting position let them know that you’re engaged, and encourage them to try to impress you.
#5 Get your voice heard
Once you’ve made that annotated agenda or cheat sheet full of ideas, it seems a shame to leave them unvoiced. Speaking up in the meeting requires a careful balance of proactive technique and fidelity to your natural rhythms.
What does this mean? In short, you want the person who speaks up to be you, and not some shoddy facsimile of the extrovert you may think you have to be. But you will be helped along by some actionable principles from which to operate.
Don’t allow your contemplative nature to become an excuse for remaining silent altogether. You can build confidence and have a meaningful impact upon the outcome of a meeting by speaking up early. If you get a chance to introduce the meeting or present some research while the mood is still being set, you can create a framework within which your colleagues can develop your ideas.
#6 Engage at your own pace
Sure, speak up early – but don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Your mind operates how it operates, and if you’re pressed for a quick response from a colleague who is interested in – or critical of – your idea, responding before you’re ready may end up in disaster.
In such a situation, you will be better served by drawing confidence from your proven abilities. Calmly state that you need a moment to think, that you’ll get back to them shortly, or that you need to look into the matter after the meeting.
Better still, utilize the strengths of your colleagues by pinging the question back at an extrovert who may cook up a moment of genius under pressure. This way you start to operate as a team despite your apparent incompatibility.
#7 Take responsibility for the meeting framework
Remember when you set the agenda by introducing the meeting? Volunteer to be the one who sums up at the end, and you can influence the outcome of the meeting and the action that the company takes moving forward.
#8 Follow up afterwards
Your meeting game doesn’t end with the scraping of chairs and the rush for the coffee machine. You’re an introvert, right? There’s important work to be done from the security of your desk.
You can capitalize on that summing-up technique from the end of the meeting by sending out minutes and follow-up emails where appropriate. Don’t make a habit of saving your ideas until the meeting’s over, but if a bit of post-meeting research opens up a fresh angle on your take then by all means share it. It may take you a while to digest new information from the meeting, so if a colleague made a point that you found interesting consider meeting up with them one-on-one to develop the thought further.
#9 RSVP for that next meeting
And while you’ve earned a welcome breather, don’t get too smug: practice makes perfect, and there’s always another meeting around the corner. You may dread it just as much as before, but at least you’re getting better at getting your voice heard.
For a step-by-step rundown of some of these techniques and more, check out this encouraging visual guide from On Stride Financial:
John writes on behalf of NeoMam Studios. A digital nomad specialising in leadership, digital media, and personal growth topics, his passions include world cinema and biscuits.
A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans. Connect with John: