Meeting anxiety: What to do when you have nothing productive to say

By Robert Half on 30 January 2014

Is there anything worse than sitting in a meeting feeling like you have nothing productive to contribute? That type of silence is not golden. Here are a few tips on how to deal with meeting anxiety.

Plan in advance

Doing your research is one of the best ways to ensure you come to a meeting prepared and ready for any type of discussion around the meeting topic. If it’s commonplace for your organisation to prepare meeting agendas then get your hands on it. Even if the participants stray from the topics, you’ll be well versed on the agenda items with a fair idea of where the conversation could lead. Write notes and prepare a few insights to share – use the meeting as an opportunity to advance the group’s thinking and highlight your own abilities.

Ask questions

Ask questions that pertain to something you can talk about. And make sure your questions reflect a considered interest in the topic. When composing your questions, keep these goals in mind: does your question attempt to get a handle on the situation or to get to the root of the problem? Does it bear in mind the impact of the problem, possible solutions and potential payoffs for the various solutions? Ask your questions at appropriate junctures of the conversation and allow people to answer without interrupting. Show your desire to be productive, not self-interested.

Have faith in yourself

Be confident in your own abilities. Remind yourself that you have a right to be at the table – you’re there because your peers need, and in most cases value, your input. You don’t need to utter bursts of brilliant insights every time you open your mouth. Most people are equally as concerned about how they’re being perceived in a meeting, so chances are they’ll be too focused on themselves to be critical of you.

Request information

Reach out for answers and encourage feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for the information you need. Colleagues often enjoy feeling useful and delivering from their own information reserves for the good of the company. The point is to be a participant as well as a facilitator. Not only does being honest about your knowledge make for a more productive meeting, it can also broaden and substantiate your remarks.

Stick to the program

Stay focused on solutions – don’t go off on tangents just to hide your own lack of knowledge about the topic. And be positive about other people’s contributions – for example, “I really like Julie’s idea about how we can use a different approach to dealing with software issues.” This will showcase your humility – a common and necessary attribute in successful leaders.

Last resort

If you prefer not to be spontaneous, take if offline. Plan another catch-up with the relevant people and do your research beforehand. And as a last resort, say nothing. It’s certainly the low-risk option, especially if you’re new in an organisation, but do make sure you engage enough with pertinent questions to leave colleagues with the impression that you’re focused and interested.

By preparing yourself and being fully aware of how your office dynamic works, you will be able to overcome any lingering fears of being unable to contribute to work meetings.

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