Meetings can be daunting in general for some people, so when there’s a lot riding on it, it can be hard to overcome those nerves.
Anxiety and stress can prevent you from moving forward and achieving your goals, so it’s crucial that you learn how to deal with nerves. There can be differing levels of anxiety, ranging from feeling too shy to speak up in a room full of people, to a more serious social anxiety disorder.
The consequences can be serious, such as missing out on promotion opportunities because you’re unable to make your views heard. It may be the case that you don’t even consider the possibility of promotion because you can’t face having to attend more meetings.
Working days lost to stress
According to research by the Health and Safety Executive, around 828,000 workers in the UK suffer from stress and anxiety in the workplace. The Labour Force Survey revealed an incredible 17.9 million working days were lost to stress and anxiety between 2019 and 2020.
Unfortunately, the figure is likely to rise as people begin returning to work following the Covid-19 pandemic. After more than 12 months participating in video conferencing from the safety of our own home, people with social anxiety are not looking forward to returning to in-person meetings.
Increasing the number of one-to-one meetings in the first few weeks of returning to the office, rather than jumping straight into busy meetings with more people, can be beneficial. Easing anxious colleagues into the normal meetings schedule again will make nervous employees feel more comfortable.
Practice makes perfect
If you fear giving a presentation at a meeting, nothing beats plenty of practice, whether you have to give a one-off presentation, or you wish to improve your public speaking skills in general.
It could be worth joining a group like Toastmasters, the international non-profit organisation that helps people to improve their public speaking and communication skills. Not only will you receive advice and practical help, but you will also have the chance to talk informally to the group.
There’s no pressure to talk if you don’t feel up to it: you can simply observe for the first few sessions until you decide you wish to take part. Once you’re accustomed to speaking to a group, you will start to feel more at ease.
Preparing properly for the important meeting will boost your confidence no end. Rather than sitting at home worrying about what might happen, start preparing methodically, so you know you have it covered.
Research the necessary topics prior to the meeting to make sure you’re up to speed with the latest developments. Organise your clothes the night before and don’t leave this until the last minute. Wear an outfit that is both professional and comfortable. It needs to be something that makes you feel good.
Don’t overthink the meeting. If you’re feeling anxious before you’re due to set off, have a chat on the phone with a friend or family member who helps you to feel relaxed.
Arrive ten minutes early, so you can sit and take a deep breath before the meeting starts. Nothing is worse than rushing in at the last minute, feeling stressed!
Utilise your strengths
Although you may never be the most eloquent speaker if you suffer from anxiety, have confidence in your own skillset. While being a good speaker is valuable, so is being a good listener.
By listening carefully to what other colleagues have to say, choosing your replies thoughtfully, your interest and patience will be apparent. People will feel more comfortable talking to you. This can help the conversation to flow more smoothly.
Learning how to listen to people will gradually help you to improve your speaking skills. Rather than just paying people lip service because your own nerves are getting the better of you, show a genuine interest in what they have to say. This will enhance your professional image.
Use more visuals
Visual tools are great for getting your message across and drawing attention away from yourself. Rather than feeling anxious about a room full of people looking at your face, give them something else to look at.
Using any kind of visual medium as part of your presentation enhances your message and aids communication. It also takes the pressure off, so you won’t feel so alone standing in the spotlight.
How can fellow employees help?
If you notice a colleague who seems to be suffering from social anxiety, you may feel unsure how to approach such a sensitive topic.
Start a conversation only if the anxiety is hindering the person’s career path, or having a negative impact on the individual, or those around them. One thing you shouldn’t do is try to force workmates to conform to your idea of “normal”.
If a person’s nerves are making them unhappy at work, gently start up a conversation with them. A good opener is to talk about how you feel about public speaking and communicating with the team.
Give them a chance to open up, rather than asking them outright. Provide constructive feedback, keeping the conversation positive, rather than coming across as being critical.
Ask your GP
If you’re a person who suffers from severe social anxiety, there may be a case for you to speak to your GP to see what medical help is available. Try to get to the root of the problem by seeking professional help.
Anxiety can be crippling in a work environment and a potential inhibitor to career progression, so its important sufferers receive the right support in order to perform their role to the best of their ability and get a handle on any pre-meeting nerves.
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