The Introverts Guide to Winning Meetings: How I Learned to Show Up
Through many conversations with peers, workshops, and moments of self-reflection, I found my voice.
For someone who suffers from shyness and a healthy dose of imposter syndrome, speaking in meetings without an invitation is incredibly hard for me.
Over the past few years, the one piece of constant, constructive feedback I’ve received is to “speak up and share my perspective more”, as by doing so, I am able to drive the direction and strategy for the team, and frankly, be seen as a leader. As a manager, the medium for which my thoughts are communicated often manifests in the form of a meeting; and as I progressed in my career, these meetings included senior leaders and executives, which continued to fuel my shyness and imposter syndrome while stifling my words.
I spent over a year deliberately working on this issue. Through many conversations with peers, workshops, moments of self-reflection, and supportive managers and teammates, I found my voice.
One of the key catalysts for my evolution was sharing my growth area with my colleagues. With each conversation, I gained another person to hold me accountable, provide tips and feedback, and most importantly, give me real-time support and allyship in meetings. Now that my peers knew it was something I was working towards, they were vigilant for times I struggled to share or speak up and would make space for my perspective. They also would encourage me to lead initiatives, agenda items or share thoughts publicly that I had disclosed in 1:1 discussions.
Through these conversations, I’ve collected some awesome tips that I wanted to share with you:
1. Realizing your responsibility.
It was in a team offsite, that I came to the realization that I owed it to my team to share my perspective. As a research lead, I represented their learnings and stories. This realization made speaking up less about me and my needs, and so much more about my team, discipline, and the users we serve. From that day forward, I owed it to these people to speak up.
2. Ask for what you need.
I’m a thinker — I like to analyze all of the possible reasons, hypotheses, and options. I struggle with improvisational discussions. One day, a new leader on my team asked for a “pre-read”, i.e. the document of what was going to be discussed in the meeting — this changed my life. With pre-reads, I had time to ponder others’ thoughts before they actually shared them. I found my voice by sharing my perspective asynchronously as comments in a quip or google doc. Then when the actual meeting took place, I could voice my thoughtful and measured perspective. When I shared this ‘ah-ha’ moment with my manager, I was encouraged to keep asking for what I needed. Over time, in addition to pre-reads, I have asked for agenda items and the meeting’s purpose, which have helped me prepare.
3. Do the homework
Once you ask for what you need, put in the work. This means reading the pre-read, reaching out to others to learn more about their context, background, or opinions, looking up related and helpful information. One leader shared advice that he would pick an agenda item to be the expert in and ponder the topic and dig up information in advance, so that when they met, he could vocalize his expertise.
4. Speak with your body
When you are in a meeting, where and how you sit, matters. One leader shared that he would sit across from and in the front row with key decision-makers, lock eyes with speakers, and lean forward. He also intentionally stayed off his computer or mobile, unless he was presenting. His goal was to show that he was 100% invested in this discussion, and it helped him jump into conversations, because others would see he was actively listening and interested in the discussion and outcome.
5. Say something stupid
When I received feedback from my peers that they felt I was holding back my perspectives, my manager asked me, “What are you worried about?” Of course, my mind went to all of the horror stories I could conjure — being fired, considered incompetent, you name it! But my manager interrupted my sabotaging thoughts and told me that my peers wanted to hear me say something stupid because that signaled to them that I wasn’t holding back.
I was granted permission to be human — my manager said, “If I don’t hear from one of your peers that you said something stupid, you’re not sharing enough.” This exchange made me feel safe to fail. If you’re worried your manager is not as forgiving as mine was, I want to encourage you to read Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “Citizen in a Republic” and encourage you to be the ‘Man in the arena’ — leading is hard work, you need to take chances, fail, learn, and keep putting yourself out there.
6. Stop taking notes and speak more
I love to help my teammates and having something tangible, like well-documented meeting notes to give was satisfying. One day, as I was opening up my laptop and starting a new google doc, my peer said, “Stop taking notes.” I froze — but… who will take notes…?” I said. My peer asked the room for a volunteer. He then said, “When you take notes, you speak less. You add more value by speaking than taking notes.” I’m so grateful for this comment, because it reinforced what my manager previously said, and gave me an extra dose of courage. There’s nothing wrong with helping out, but be intentional. if you have the background, domain expertise or alternate perspective, then ask someone else to take notes so that you can speak up.
7. Don’t be afraid to speak, even if it feels small
Another fearless leader shared that sometimes, if she can’t add to the conversation, she’ll be additive. For example, “We have found [this behavior], which, although slightly different than what you’re talking about, is related because [XYZ].” This moves the conversation forward in a helpful direction. To riff off this advice, I’ve started to ask more questions. For example, I’ve asked teammates, “As someone that has spent time on this topic, what is your perspective?” I’ve also asked those that hadn’t spoken yet or are on video conferencing, if they have anything to say to make space for them to participate.
8. Help your meeting attendees be successful
One leader shared that she often thinks about how she can serve meeting attendees — whether she owns the meeting or not. In other words, “What can she tell attendees to make them successful or knowledgeable?” By embracing this servant mindset, she’s able to help her team and express her perspective.
9. Visualize and emulate the leader you wish to be
Another colleague called out his observation of a leader that looked you in the eye, leaked passion, and make you feel like the only person in the room, and how he tried to channel this leader in key meetings. This reminded me of a learning from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s biography, “In my own words” — If women can see it they can become it.
10. If you can’t show up in the meeting, show up after
One of my leaders confided that sometimes she has a hard time interjecting her thoughts into meetings, or comes up with amazing ideas after the meeting ends. Instead of pocketing these thoughts, she continues the conversation by following up. This can be done in-person in a meeting or digitally via email. She ensures the next steps by including a call to action that spurs the conversation.
I hope you find these tips helpful, but most importantly, I’m sharing my story for three main reasons:
- I want you to find your voice, too. I know I’m not the only one who finds it hard to show up in meetings, but if I can do it, so can you.
- I want to hear from peers that have been holding back — I know you have something great to add to the conversation.
- Selfishly, I’d love to collect even more tips and best practices for showing up in meetings — please share your learnings or ideas in the comments.
Big thank you to my community of fearless leaders for sharing your learnings, being vulnerable with and supportive to me as I’ve found my voice: Elissa Darnell, Carolyn Wei, Florian Foerster, David Ginsberg, Sal Becerra, Christopher Clare, Steve Carter, Jeff Huang, Darci Groves, Maria Smith, and so many more!