My first gainful employment was at the Rose & Crown pub. I spent the summer liberally garnishing sandwiches with cress. Every experience is a learning opportunity. I learned that no one likes cress.
As the opportunities for sandwich garnishing dried up like Mother’s Pride left out in the sun, I turned my attention to the corporate world. Fast forward to 1995 and there I am, sitting in my first client meeting with my boss.
“Meetings can be minefields. And for many women we work with, meetings when you’re in the minority can be places where confidence goes to die.”
The client is the CEO of a management consultancy. My boss and her are discussing media opportunities to raise the company’s profile. They’ve been in full flow for almost an hour and I’ve been following the back and forth with a concentration last seen at Wimbledon Finals. Eventually, they pause for breath and it’s my time to speak. I take a breath, open my mouth and make what I think is a cogent, salient and insightful suggestion.
The CEO literally jumps.
I have been so quiet to that point that she has forgotten I am there and the sound of my voice has made her jump out of her skin.
Whilst that was rather an extreme reaction and one that was dealt with in the time-honoured way of pretending it didn’t happen and ignoring me, it’s just one example of a less than successful meeting.
Meetings can be minefields. And for many women we work with, meetings when you’re in the minority can be places where confidence goes to die. Take this example from our postbag,
“I’m good at my job but my lack of confidence can be detrimental. I work in a very male environment. I don’t speak up in meetings, I have a little voice that says that everything I will suggest is stupid. I also never know when to talk. I get palpitations when I want to cut in during a group discussion then I leave it too late and someone else says what I was thinking. And when I do talk, I think other people are bored. How can I be more relaxed, more confident and speak with authority in business situations?”
That little voice in our heads has a lot to answer for. Time to turn down the volume on the incessant negative self-talk and big up yourself. Have you ever been in a meeting when someone has said something that is patently nonsense but has said it with such confidence that everyone else nods sagely at their ‘wisdom’? Follow these tips and that person could be you!
Actually, no. Because this is not about who’s got the loudest voice in the room or who can dominate the conversation. It’s about recognising that you’re in that meeting for a reason and you have every right to have a point of view and join in the debate. Yes, sometimes people will disagree with you but that’s OK. Because you won’t agree with everyone either. And life will go on.
“Time to turn down the volume on the incessant negative self-talk and big up yourself.”
Confidence usually grows by doing things a bit differently on a daily basis: pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and living to tell the tale. So, with that in mind here are a few practical small things which have worked for many of the working women we know.
- Know your shit. Especially your numbers. If you thought your days of revision ended with your last university exam, think again. Revise & rehearse your presentation so that you are on top of all the detail and know it, rather than relying on reading from your slides. Anyone can read from slides. You’re better than that.
- Don’t wait (as I did) for ages to speak up. Ask a question early to get your voice heard and registered. This stops you sitting there worrying about when you’re going to speak, so you can be present in the meeting rather than stressing in your head.
- Be yourself. Talk in a way that’s comfortable and natural for you. Don’t feel you have to act or talk like others in the room. Authentic voices get respect. And if you don’t agree with what’s being said, say so.
- Practice some positive self-talk. You may feel David Brent-esq saying, “I am a tiger” in front of a mirror but reminding yourself, “I know my stuff, I am brilliant” even if you don’t feel it does seem to give you the illusion of confidence that’s then backed up by reality when you nail the meeting
- Don’t hide in plain sight. Examples of this are: taking notes, making the coffee, writing the flip charts. You’re in the meeting but you’re not really contributing to the debate. Sit yourself in the middle of the table, take up space, get involved. Get someone else to take the notes.
And for those of you that do like a garnish, here’s a final thought: Stop caring so much about what people think of you and start caring more about what you think of them. It’s liberating.
Louisa Clarke leads Caffeine’s Fast Forward Female programme – a mix of individual coaching and peer group workshops designed for companies that recognise the importance of gender diversity and want to support their senior female leaders by giving them the means to accelerate their development.
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