Nerves get the better of you in meetings? Here's how to find your business voice.
Have you ever sat in meeting with your inner voice in overdrive, burning to share that killer concept you’ve so ingeniously cooked up, only for the moment to be stolen by somebody else or if you do eventually get the chance to speak, find you get lost in the detail?
Before we can start looking at the practicalities of unlocking our business voice, let’s examine the self-sabotaging mind games people often play on themselves.
Do you ever find yourself running on these thoughts?
· It can be difficult to break into discussions during meetings
· The message is clear I my head, but I lose confidence when I hear myself speak.
· Sometimes I sense people wanting to hurry me up
· Self-belief and confidence can nosedive when I see conflict
· Others’ higher status can get in the way of what I’m trying to say
If you responded yes to all five, don’t panic. The vast majority of people would say the same. Likewise, if your answer to all five statements was ‘It depends’, that’s perfectly valid, too.
These beliefs are voiced by our inner monologue and fuelled by the reptilian part of our brain – the oldest, most primeval portion of our hard drive. It’s responsible for the out-of-body experience we feel when we lose our train of thought and the fight or flight response is triggered during a speech, presentation or high stakes meeting.
If this happens to you, how long do you feel the experience goes on? In my classes, most people tell me it feels like an uncomfortably long time. Yet, very often if we ask the same question of a colleague who was present, their experience will have been different.
They’ll say the moment passed in an instant, and they’re not just being nice about it. There’s a physiological reason for this.
You may well recognise the triggers: our heart rate soars: you feel flushed or go red: and most significantly, your breathing goes haywire and it can feel like you’re hyperventilating. Don’t be defeated by it – It is a natural part of being a human.
Instead, do something about it. Place the palm of your hand on your diaphragm (the part of your chest that moves up and down when you laugh) and take a deep, indulgent breath.
Exhale as slowly as possible without straining, and then crucially allow the next breath to arrive naturally. Don’t even think about it, just let it happen. This ten-second ‘time out’ will slow down your heart rate, refuel your voice and switch your consciousness back on.
Remember, you alone are in control of your breathing, not the situation nor anyone else in the room at the time. Taking control of our breathing is actually the reverse of what most of us do during moments of stress. Instead, we panic breathe, which triggers the thumping-heart-in-mouth feeling, thereby feeding the flames rather than fighting them.
We also need some internal reprogramming in our level of self-belief. We need to convince ourselves, first and foremost, that we’re worth listening to.
Even if everything else is working, such as the quality of our insight, the evidence to back up our idea and the structure of our narrative, if the delivery of the message isn’t congruent in terms of voice and body, then the recipient won’t buy into it and well end up working much harder to convince them.
Like never before, if we’ve got something worth saying, the right time to say it is now.
This is where our inner voice can sometimes be behind. It wants us to wait until our ideas are fully formed and utterly bulletproof. The first decision we need to make is to fully back ourselves and accept that the commercial world can’t afford to wait for perfection.
That can be an uncomfortable concept for deep thinkers, who like to reflect and refine before demanding airtime. The antidote for this unease is to commit to becoming as clear and confident about what we don’t know as what we do.
The necessity to reset our inner dials can also be evident in respect of the effect we’re trying to have on others when we speak. The impact we have, or don’t have, on them and the way we leave them feeling is driven by the decisions we make.
Our mind, breathing, voice and body work as an integrated system; we’re designed that way, and under normal conditions, it looks after itself without us even thinking about it.
When we don’t make conscious decisions about the effect we want our communication to have, the recipient fills in the gap and may well misinterpret how we want them to feel. That’s why making choices around intention is so central to unlocking our business voice. Do we want to educate, challenge or inspire our public? Think about doing all three.
People aren’t nearly as interested in us as we think. There’s a misconception that others are continually judging us and scrutinising what we have to say. In reality, they don’t have enough time or energy for this.
We get noticed when we merit other people’s attention, hopefully for the right reasons. Our focus needs to be on creating the hooks by which we will earn people’s attention (rather than attempting to demand it), and then being easy to follow once we’ve achieved this.
Be generous in sharing your thoughts and hard-won insights. Never forget to switch from broadcast to receive mode during what must always be a two-way process, even when you’re delivering a speech.
In conclusion, your inner voice is helpful. It can save you from appearing foolish, so take notice of it. However, just like your external voice, it needs managing. Always be mindful that what you’re saying to yourself is transmitted into what you are saying to others.
· Acknowledge you inner monologue, don’t be rules by it
· Expect to get ‘spooked’ occasionally and take action to reset your breathing
· Get your ideas into the arena early – nobody is expecting perfection
· Tune into you internal dials, e.g. volume, pace and body language, to the external world
· Focus on the dialogue in the room, not the monologue in your head
A clear and supportive inner monologue is the first step towards unlocking your business voice. Make sure your receptors are turned on and tuned in before you hit the play button.
Simon de Cintra is author of "Unlock Your Business Voice – How to speak as well as you think" (£12.99 Rethink Press).
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