5 Tips for Conquering the Fear of Speaking Up

One of the most common pieces of feedback I received early in my career, and have given to almost every intern is to speak up in meetings. It's natural to err on the silent side at first—you're in a new place with new people, most of whom are more senior, feeling the pressure to prove yourself. We've all been there. Hearts thumping, palms sweaty, our brains shouting, "Say something! Just say it! Now!" which only makes things worse. 

To kick off 2017 right, here are five tips to help you conquer the fear of speaking up. They'll make it easier to jump in and contribute, so you'll get the reps in and build confidence—until it becomes second nature.

1) You're being paid for your opinions and ideas.

The value you bring to an agency is your thoughts, opinions and ideas. When you realize that vocalizing what's in your head is the main crux of your job—not just a supplement to the work you do solo—it becomes clear that listening and observing isn't enough. This tip's more of a mindset shift vs. an action item, but even a slight rewire in how you think about speaking up can help.

2) Do a little prep work before meetings.

You should know the objective of every meeting you join—ideally it's in the calendar invite, but if not, hit up the organizer to find out. Set aside time before the meeting to think about the objective, and jot down any questions you have, initial thoughts or points you want to raise, or research you've done. Just a little bit of prep work will alleviate a lot of the stress of trying to think of something to say in the moment.  

3) Create alley-oop moments.

Finding the right moment to jump in with your thoughts can be hard, especially in bigger meetings. If your manager, someone more senior on your team, or a coworker you feel comfortable with is in the meeting, talk with them in advance about possible alley-oop moments. If they know you've done some research/thinking around a certain topic, s/he can set you up at the right time in the meeting with something like, "[Your name] and I were talking earlier about this. [Your name], want to share what we discussed?" You won't rely on these assists forever, but it'll help teach you the art of jumping in at the most effective moment and show others you're working on being more vocal. 

4) The loudest voices like to be challenged.

Ok, this isn't always true, but I've found that sometimes people with the strongest opinions voiced loudly at meetings respect those who step up and challenge them. It's extra daunting, I know. But realizing that the domineering way people express themselves doesn't mean they think they're always right or that they don't want to be questioned can push you past the fear—and earn you some kudos. 

5) Half-baked thoughts are valuable too.

A lot of the hesitation around speaking up comes from the self-inflicted pressure to deliver smart, fully formed thoughts. But your role in a meeting isn't to have all the answers—it's to help the group get to the answers (unless, of course, you're presenting something). Contributing half thoughts or probing questions is just as valuable as fully baked ideas, because you never know what might spark something in someone else's head. Next time you catch yourself questioning whether or not you should say something partially formed—say it. 

As someone who struggled for a long time with speaking up, I know it's not easy. It's not something you can just force yourself to turn on and do. But the cliché holds—the more you do it, the more comfortable you'll get and the easier it'll be. Hopefully these tips help make it a little less painful to get to a place where you're expressing your brilliant self freely in meetings. 
I believe,