5 Ways to Beat Social Anxiety in Business Meetings

By: Chloe Carmichael

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Anxiety manifests itself in different ways and situations, one of which is in the workplace. Social anxiety in meetings can stop you from sharing your ideas and keep you from being a contributing member of the team.

This pattern can leave you feeling frozen before and during business meetings, and even stop you from getting promoted because you aren't able to communicate with your teammates.

So how do you turn things around and conquer social anxiety in business meetings?

1. Prepare. Before a meeting, write down one to three bullet points you'd like to contribute. This way, you go into an anxiety-provoking situation with some sort of structure, something to guide you and fall back on in case the pressure begins to take over.

2. Have an ally. It's helpful to have someone at the meeting you know will be supportive of your ideas. Give them a preview of the points you want to make and get their feedback, so that your ally is more likely to back you up if others challenge you.

3. Take notes. During the meeting, make it a habit to write down short phrases that express responses you'd like to make. When it's time for you to speak, you can refer to the notes instead of feeling unprepared.

It's important to keep these phrases short. You should not be writing an essay during the meeting. They should serve as reminders for important points you'd like to make and to help you explain what you'd like to say.

4. Piggy back. The material you want to contribute is likely in line with what others are discussing, so try to find a way to tie in your remarks with what has already been said. This shows you have been listening and that you are a team player.

You can join the conversation by starting with agreement, even if you want to present a slightly different idea. "Yes, Rachel, I agree that on-time delivery is absolutely essential. I do have one other way to improve delivery times that I'd like to offer...."

5. Follow Up. If you've been told that you need to contribute more in meetings, this point goes double for you.

After the meeting, send a follow up email to a few people with a follow up comment that spotlights the fact that you contributed. Try something like, "Linda, I'm glad that shortening delivery times was a focus at the meeting today. As I discussed during the meeting, I completely agree that XYZ would help. Just let me know how to move the ball forward on that one."

Follow up on disagreement is okay. Contributing isn't always about agreeing. "Mark, I'm glad delivery times were a focus at the meeting today. You favored ABC, and as you know from the meeting I'm more of a fan of XYZ. I thought the discussion we had at the meeting was really helpful, I'd like to follow up to hear more about your thoughts before making a final choice."

6. Practice! Stepping out of your comfort zone is not an easy process. It gets easier with practice. The more you become accustomed to interacting in social situations, the more natural it will feel. If you feel awkward during the meeting, remind yourself that it's normal when you're trying something new. We build comfort through habit and practice.

The key is to take that first step. Take a deep breath and speak at least once in a meeting. Share a point you think is important. Know that you are making progress. You are completely capable of contributing valuable ideas and opinions and participating to your fullest potential in the workplace.

Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, dating coach, and the founder of Carmichael Psychology in New York City. She specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety reduction, and her new e-course lets her clients master CBT techniques for anxiety on their own schedule. She has appeared live on FOX and ABC and has been quoted by New York Magazine and Everyday Health, among others.