At meetings in every organization, you’ll find two types of people: those who love to brainstorm ideas and derive energy from tangents and sidebars; and their counterparts, who prefer to listen and thoughtfully process conversations before formulating and sharing their opinions.
Extroverts are those outgoing and energetic personalities who enjoy working in groups and dive head-first into projects, according to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, which administers the popular personality test. Introverts, who are more reflective and reserved, often prefer to work independently.
For introverts, meetings can be cause for anxiety and worry over whether their thoughts and ideas will be heard, says Nancy Ancowitz, career coach and author of "Self-Promotion for Introverts."
“Extroverts have fun jumping from topic to topic during meetings, all while the introvert is shrinking inside himself, trying to process what someone said 30 minutes ago,” she says. “Introverts get over-talked; they might say, ‘I have an idea to share,’ while extroverts will interject, ‘Speaking of ideas, here’s mine.’ Introverts are easily eclipsed by the extrovert.”
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Successfully navigating meetings as an introvert comes down to preparation, practice, and reflection, Ancowitz says. Here’s what introverts can do before, during, and after meetings to ensure that their voices are heard.
Preparation is key to an introvert’s success, particularly at meetings during which leaders bounce from topic to topic and interruptions are common, Ancowitz says. Because speaking spontaneously is difficult for introverts, take the time before a meeting to write down key points you want to make or questions you want to ask.
The physical process of writing them down will help you to organize your thoughts in an eloquent manner.
“It’s difficult for introverts to process their opinions on the fly during meetings, which is why preparation is so important,” she says. “Having those key points with you will help you navigate meetings more successfully.”
Because introverts may not be comfortable speaking on the spot and may lack confidence that they’ll say the right thing, practicing what you’ll say and how you’ll say it is necessary, Ancowitz says.
Take those key statements or questions you prepared prior to the meeting and practice saying them aloud. This process will help cement your thoughts in your mind, which will make articulating them easier, she says.
If speaking on the fly is a muscle you’d like to build, Ancowitz suggests signing up for an improvisation class. “Improv classes give you the skills to say, ‘Yes, and…’ during meetings,” she says. “This will help build trust with yourself that you can say the right thing on the fly.”
Introverts loathe watching themselves speak, Ancowtiz says. (Actually, many people hate watching themselves speak.) Videoing yourself – no matter how painful – is a valuable exercise that gives you insight into how you’re presenting yourself at meetings.
“Introverts tend not to be emotive,” Ancowitz says. “You could be smiling internally, but externally you could come off standoffish. You might be feeling completely engaged during a meeting, but it’s not showing on your face.”
Use your smartphone to video yourself making your prepared points or presenting on a topic and then review your mannerisms and expressions. When it’s time for the meeting, you’ll have a better understanding of how you present yourself.
4. Ensure structure
Whether you’re leading the meeting or attending it, establish guidelines, Ancowitz says. This will help keep the meeting on track, allowing you to make your contributions. This structure is important for introverts and manifests in two ways – through an agenda and ground rules.
If you’re facilitating the meeting, create and disseminate talking points prior to its start. “While this is great advice for any meeting, it’s especially useful for introverts because it lets them know that they’ll have an opportunity to express what they’ve prepared,” she says. If you’re attending a meeting, ask the facilitator for an agenda, or offer to create one yourself to help the meeting stay on topic.
Establishing ground rules, such as one person speaking at a time, is equally important, according to Ancowitz. “If this is announced at the beginning of the meeting, it’s easier to interject when someone is talking over another person,” she says. “Because this rule was established, it’s not rude to interrupt and ask that they let Lee finish making her point.”
5. Speak up
Of course, interruptions happen. Coping with people who interrupt or interject when you’re trying to make a point is frustrating and uncomfortable for introverts. To manage these situations, Ancowtiz suggests the following way to assert yourself:
“Lean forward, put up a hand or finger, look the person in the eye and say their name,” she says. “‘Hey, Joe, you make a great point. I’d like to add that…’ That’s a great way to be heard.”
6. Follow up
Whether or not you were able to speak your thoughts during the meeting, it’s a good idea to follow up after with the key stakeholders, Ancowitz says. Send them an email that recaps what you said and anything you weren’t able to express. This gives introverts the unrestricted time they prefer to think about and formulate their opinions.
“Even if you got your piece of the pie in the meeting, this is a useful exercise to confirm what you’ve said,” she says. “And if you didn’t, this puts into writing your ideas and thoughts, which helps elevate your own visibility, too.”
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