Building Confidence for Speaking Up in Virtual Meetings

I’ve written previously about the importance of nailing good etiquette in virtual meetings. However, it takes more to succeed than just polite participation. Building confidence to speak up in a virtual meeting can help you succeed and advance at work. Of course, this is easier said than done. In this video from HBR Innovation Editor Christine Liu, she details her struggle with speaking up in virtual meetings. After recognizing that she lacks confidence in her ability to contribute, she seeks out advice from a speaking coach. That coach, Justin Hale, gives some great advice to help Liu reach her goal of speaking up. Keep reading, and you’ll learn plenty more tips to build your own confidence too!

Challenges to Confidence in the Virtual World

It’s important to validate the challenges we’re facing first. Melody Wilding is a coach for emotionally intelligent and ambitious professionals. She’s done some work to investigate why virtual meetings intimidate us more than we’d expect. In her article for Forbes, she explains that virtual meetings can overwhelm us with visual information, often leading to distraction. Of course, as experience has taught us in the past year of the pandemic, distractions can surface at home as well. All the information you’re processing at once can knock you off your game and make you hesitate to speak up.

The technologies that facilitate virtual meetings can also increase interruption troubles. Audio or Internet lags, as well as the loss of some nonverbal cues, increase anxiety that we’ll interrupt someone else or be interrupted. I wrote about this challenge in this previous post, and Liu mentioned it in her video too. Don’t let this glitch silence you, though. You can use the strategies we’ll describe soon to overcome this hurdle and participate in meetings confidently anyway.

Confidence as a Women’s Issue

Before we get right to the strategies, it’s also important to take a look at how confidence can differ across groups of people. As I described in a series called “Working For Home” on this blog, women in the workplace can face a unique set of challenges. In particular, I mentioned that women run a higher risk than men do of becoming invisible at work. This HBR article that I referenced explains some major reasons why. Certainly, failing to speak up in meetings will only contribute to that invisibility. That’s why women especially need to find solutions.

Dr. Lois Frankel is a psychologist and executive coach dedicated to addressing this issue. She’s written a handful of books about the pitfalls “nice girls” face in the office. And the aforementioned coach Wilding has conducted an interview with Dr. Frankel specifically about speaking up in the workplace!

In that interview, Dr. Frankel suggests some strategies specifically curated for women lacking the confidence to speak up. She suggests that if you have a good idea to share, you should share it sooner rather than later. That way, you’re less likely to find yourself repeating someone else’s contribution. On the other hand, if you don’t have any particular insight to contribute, participate another way. Dr. Frankel suggests asking a thoughtful question or backing up someone else’s suggestion. When you do share an idea, make sure it won’t be ignored. Ask for feedback before you mute your mike. And if you’re put on the spot, don’t feel pressured to resort to fillers like, “Um… I think…” Instead, say something like, “Let me think out loud for a minute” or “I’ll have to look into some more data to answer that confidently. I’ll get back to you later today.”

Strategies to Stride Past the Challenges

Of course, women aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a full toolbelt of strategies for building confidence. That’s why I’m going to link a bunch more useful resources than just those Dr. Frankel has curated for women. For instance, in Liu’s video for HBR, speaking coach Justin Hale gives her a great formula for sharing ideas in a meeting. He suggests opening your comment with some facts, then sharing your own take on them, and closing with a request for engagement for others. Also, if you know you’re going to make a pitch in an upcoming meeting, practice in advance. You’ll build confidence over time with that approach.

Coach Melody Wilding shares some more strategies here. For instance, she recommends positioning yourself close to the camera and at eye level, so you project a confident presence. That advice echoes some tips I gave in this earlier post. When you’re speaking, look at the camera, not yourself. (You can turn off self-view on some virtual meeting platforms to make that easier.) Relax your shoulders as you talk and use language that conveys your confidence. Replace “Sorry if I’m off, but I thought…” with “I believe…” You have a right to your opinion!

Professor Andy Molinsky shares additional suggestions in this article based on his experience teaching online. He recommends greeting meeting participants personally when possible and maintaining a connection with them through the chat. For example, don’t be afraid to say, “I see a comment in the chat about some hesitations here. Anyone care to elaborate?” This HBR article builds on that, encouraging you to use the chat to share links and resources to enhance your presentation. After all, the virtual meeting setting has more than just drawbacks. Consider the chat feature a perk!

Power Posing: A Controversial Confidence Hack

Last but certainly not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention power posing. In 2012, social psychologist Dr. Amy Cuddy introduced the world to the concept of power posing with this famous TED Talk. She explained that when we hunch down, cross our legs, or hold onto our elbows, we convey insecurity. By contrast, when our bodies take up space, we’re sending a very confident message. The fascinating insight? We’re not just communicating with others through body language. We’re also informing our own minds’ perception of ourselves.

In studies like this one and this one, Dr. Cuddy and her colleagues found that adopting a power pose for just two minutes has amazing results. This one trick can improve stress tolerance, increase risk tolerance, and boost performance on a stressful job interview. In other words, if you’re making a pitch to a client or your team, you’ll do better if you’ve power posed!

So what’s controversial about this? Well, Dr. Cuddy came under intense scrutiny after her TED Talk went viral. Since then, as this article explains, not all her results have been replicated successfully. Her team has made this spreadsheet available to map some of the follow up studies, and this meta-analysis from 2020 surveyed 73 of those studies to draw some broad conclusions. The bottom line is both complicated and simple. It’s complicated, in that the original data Dr. Cuddy collected doesn’t seem to generalize across all samples and studies. It depends on the conditions. However, it’s simple to say that there definitely is a benefit to power posing in all settings. As Dr. Cuddy concludes, quoting Maya Angelou in this interview, “Stand up straight, and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.” Here’s to conquering 2021’s circumstances with confidence!