Like many of you I’m a young professional, still new to my current job. Every week I sit in meetings with people who’ve worked in our organization longer than I have and who seem to have it all figured out. Sometimes when I feel the urge to speak up, a little voice inside tells me “Don’t say that, they’ll think you’re an idiot.” And as soon as someone else says the exact same thing that I was thinking, another voice tells me, “Idiot, you should’ve just said it first!”. Believe me, imposter syndrome is real and young professionals, especially women and minorities have to constantly over-talk the voice in our heads that is trying to quieten us.
What I’ve learned over the last several months is that no one knows everything, everyone makes mistakes, and the only way to look like an idiot is to leave a meeting without contributing anything. So here are a few things I’ve been doing to boost my confidence and leave meetings feeling like a valuable part of our team:
- Challenge yourself to share at least one of your opinions or thoughts during every meeting –Yes, every single meeting that you attend, because the easiest way to shrink your confidence is to say nothing at all. So until you can get in the habit of speaking up regularly, just start with one: one opinion, one idea, or one thought.
- Ask a question – if you really feel in over your head about sharing an opinion or idea, ask at least one question or seek clarity on at least one thing mentioned. Even if you’re just asking, “Did you say this Thursday or next Thursday?” show that you’re engaged and get use to hearing what your own voice sounds like speaking in front of others.
- Strike a power pose – shrinking in your seat, avoiding eye contact, or fumbling with your pen is the quickest way to lose confidence at work. Instead, lean in and place both hands and elbows on top of the table or place one arm over the back of your chair or the chair next to you. By taking up more physical space, you trick your brain into thinking you’re in charge and thus are more comfortable engaging.
- Volunteer – offer to take something off of someone else’s to-do list. Start with tasks that are within your knowledge area that you know you can handle and won’t interfere with your current workload.
- When you do speak, take your time – there’s no need to feel rushed, just own the limelight. I mean think about it, you’ve sat through most of the meeting listening – surely your colleagues don’t mind hearing you out for a minute or so.
- And if anyone misunderstands what you said, correct them. In a tactful and respectful way, don’t get cornered into thinking you were wrong in what you said, take a moment to rethink your statement and then clarify for the group.
For some of us, it takes time to build up our professional self-esteem. The key is taking small, but consistent steps until it becomes second nature. I’m an introvert so I completely understand the imminent fear of public speaking. But I say this in love: get over it. No one makes a difference in the world by hiding under their desk. It’s uncomfortable, it’s scary, but it’s completely necessary. Time to boss up!