Meetings are intimidating events for introverts. The need to respond to questions on the fly, and speak in front of a group, can rack up a whole host of anxieties.
Many incorrectly believe introverts to be shy. But like anyone else, introverts want to get across their point of view, too. Only, they want to process the information first, and think through an idea before giving it.
With introverts making up 50% of the population, anyone running a meeting should forget attempting to turn introverts in to extroverts. Instead, they should make it as comfortable as possible for introverts to offer their contribution.
So if you or any of your colleagues are introverts who struggle with workplace meetings, this article will help. Adopting a few of these ideas, and introducing some to your manager, will help you tackle meetings with more confidence, assertiveness, and authority. And naturally, meetings will become far more efficient, too.
Get Hold of the Agenda
Many introverts suffer from this commonplace meeting problem. You are handed an agenda at the start of a meeting, and find something you desperately want to talk about. But you have no time to prepare.
To solve this, brief agendas should be sent to all attendees at least a few hours ahead of the meeting. The same goes for any direct questions that will be asked. Extroverts may be fine not even glancing at these agendas. But introverts will find them invaluable. To make this as painless as possible, point your manager to these free meeting agenda templates for Word. Or if your team uses Evernote, it’s very easy to set up a meeting agenda template over there, too.
Meeting apps like Amazemeet help you design intelligent meetings around questions and people who really matter. These pre-meeting apps are just the thing introverts need to contribute positively before the meeting starts officially.
Because advanced preparation allows introverts to fully contribute when the time comes, sharing meeting agendas is in everyone’s best interest. To get the most out of this, be sure to write down your thoughts prior to the meeting so you can refer to them when the relevant topic crops up.
Commit to Speaking
If you have something you want to say in a meeting, say it at the first opportunity. Ideally, this will be in the first 5–10 minutes, when energy levels are usually pretty low.
Getting your ideas heard early on is far easier than trying to squeeze in your two cents later when conversations are likely to be more animated, with extroverts taking the lead.
If you can’t get across your ideas in the first few minutes, commit to at least getting them across before the end of the meeting. You should see this as a challenge, and develop a micro-habit that ensures you are an active contributor to each meeting you attend.
Share Ideas Anonymously
If there’s something you want to contribute to a meeting that may ruffle some feathers, or you simply don’t want to risk confrontation, try contributing anonymously.
Attentiv (free for teams of up to 10) is one solution that makes this possible, where anonymous discussions (see above) can be started to help companies make important decisions. This allows team members to express what they really feel without fear of backlash. This could be especially valuable to gather thoughts from introverts.
Alternatively, you could send ideas (and suggestions for improving meetings) through a free anonymous email sending service like AnonymousEmail.me.
Be a Facilitator
A meeting facilitator is essentially the person who guides the discussion. This is usually an impartial role, with the main aim being to keep discussion on track, and to help everyone come to mutual decisions where possible. There are plenty of resources and methods you can use to help with facilitation. These include mind-mapping tools such as Coggle, and decision making apps like ChoiceMap (iOS), or Decision Buddy (Android).
With the introvert’s skill of being able to see the bigger picture, and to grasp the nuances of complex topics, this is a great position to claim. And knowing what it’s like to be uncomfortable in meetings, there’s no better person to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, than an introvert.
If you have the confidence, you can assume responsibility for this within a meeting. Otherwise, mention to your manager that you would like to be a facilitator for the next couple of meetings. This will allow you to contribute without being put on the spot. It can often help if the facilitator also organizes meetings and agendas so they can structure the meeting in the best way possible.
Address the Elephant in the Room
Introverts are generally clear, strategic thinkers who can see the important questions and issues that need to be resolved before moving forward.
Therefore, it sometimes takes an introvert to grasp the mantle and ask the important questions, or address the elephant in the room. This doesn’t mean you have to give a monologue on an issue. It could mean simply steering the conversation in the right direction with a well-aimed question.
I think we really need to talk about the changes in compensation. What’s actually happening with that?
A statement like the above can quickly change the topic from an unproductive one, to a productive one, with the question passing the responsibility to speak to someone else. If there are a bunch of questions that you want to ask, writing these as a list before the meeting will remind you of these, and help you to word the question tactfully.
This technique allows you to make an impression, and be assertive, without needing to be the main speaker in the room.
Ask for Time
Often in a meeting you’ll find yourself in the spotlight, feeling pressured to come up with an answer there and then. Sometimes this leads to a verbal mess tumbling out of your mouth, or you’ll beat yourself up for not getting across your response as clearly as you wanted.
In these situations, the answer is simple. Ask for time to think. You could either address the group later in the meeting, or send an email to the relevant people later on. Simply say something like:
I’m not sure what the best option is right now, but I’ll get some ideas to you in the next few hours.
This will almost always buy you time to properly process the relevant information and offer a quality response.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you find yourself getting in a tizzy about speaking in front of a group, one option is to practice. First, think about what it is that puts you off contributing in front of a crowd.
Maybe you’re self-conscious about speaking before knowing what you’re going to say. Maybe you feel like you don’t have anything of value to contribute. Maybe you struggle to squeeze into a group conversation mid-flow.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to eradicate these struggles, but practicing is your best option. This could be in private, but that could be a little awkward. Instead, learn how to overcome your public speaking demons, and then force yourself to regularly have conversations with more than one person. Practice jumping in when you get the urge to say something. Experiment with pacing (study TED talks like this one from Benjamin Zander, to help with this). Get comfortable being the center of attention.
Only by consistently pushing yourself out of your public speaking comfort-zone will you be able to expand that comfort zone. As that comfort-zone expands, you’ll start to feel less intimidated by prospect of addressing a meeting room full of people.
What Else Works for You?
Not sure if you are an introvert? Maybe, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test will help you find out.
These strategies should help you — as an introvert — be able to better prepare for meetings, and better handle them when they come around. Experiment with them, and see how well they work for you.
If you know any other introverts who could benefit from reading this article, please do share it with them.
And if you have any other suggestions that have made it easier for you to handle meetings at work, let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: Workers At Meeting by Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock, business people working by Andrei Rahalski via Shutterstock, Woodleywonderworks, team meeting, via Flickr, Meeting by UBC Commons via Flickr, Clock by Dineshraj Goomany via Flickr, Rear view of businessman standing in lights of stage (edited), Shutterstock.