Throw me in almost any setting, and I’m down to talk, chat, and schmooze. On the subway? Let me tell you how amazing your blazer is. In a coffee shop? We should totally become best friends over cold brews.

But throw me in a board room? Umm… Ah… Yeaaah… I think I’ll just fade into this premium leather chair over here. I’ve always struggled with speaking up at meetings, and after years of fading to the back, I think I’m finally finding my voice.

But it’s taken a lot for me to get here, and it’s still a work in progress. With each idea I muster up the courage to vocalize at that oblong table, I remind myself of these experience-induced mantras:

goal setting

What would you say at a smaller table?

You know, one that’s not situated in front of a PowerPoint screen. Of course, it’s much less about the size of the table and much more about who’s sitting at it. I try to remind myself of what I would say one-on-one to a colleague in her office, or down the hall at the copy machine. I have thoughtful opinions and meaningful contributions to make during our everyday dialogue. And I have the potential to engage just as productively in a room with a lot more ears—and often, some very important ears—to hear what I have to say. Self-doubt is the hurdle and confidence is the leap.

Fake it ‘til you make it… Kind of.

Finding confidence is easier said than done. We so often try to boil it down to a catchphrase. Fake it ‘til you make it, trust you gut, you got this, yada yada yada. I appreciate your exclamation-pointed piece of advice, Chad, but it’s just not doing it for me. The truth is, it has taken me different experiences and a lot of reflection to gain confidence in my own point of view. You may have to tell yourself to “fake” your confidence, but what’s more important is realizing that what you have say is indeed not “fake” at all. This takes time, but you don’t want to stay quiet for too long. Opportunity and growth await as payoffs for those I-think-I-might-be-visibly-sweating-through-my-clothes moments. This leads me to my final (and perhaps most useful) piece of advice.

Oh wait. Other people are actually faking it.

They totally took Chad’s advice and ran with it. Yup, they ran all the way through “faking it” and slid right into “making it.” At the risk of sounding cynical, I do think it’s valuable to take an honest look at your peers and superiors in the workplace. It can be hard to navigate the inflated standards we set for ourselves, but realistically, how do you perform? I’m not sure I know anyone who, at some point in their career, hasn’t looked at a coworker or a boss and said, “How in the world did you get here?” Don’t let their voices drown out yours. The people you should really want to impress can distinguish between the fakers and the doers. Authenticity wins every time. (Even if that authenticity comes with a little bit of sweat and nerves.)

But wait, how did Chad make it to the top of org chart, then? I have no explanation for this other than: so goes life. But what I’ve found so far is that my most valuable professional connections are ones who totally pick up what I’m putting down. They’re also the ones who don’t talk just to hear their voices heard, but do talk to say something worth hearing. The silver lining of being choosy about when to speak up? People actually listen.

So no, you won’t find me giving a monologue to a room full people sitting in those premium leather chairs. But when I know I have something to say, I say it. My words are worth hearing, and yours probably are too.

goal setting

Colleen Heavens

Colleen Heavens

Colleen lives in Philadelphia, where she works in communications at the University of Pennsylvania. Her background is in publishing, having worked as a writer and editor prior to moving into higher ed. She got her start at the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied journalism and Spanish, and she is now working on her masters at Penn. Between work and class, she makes time for city strolls, good coffee, dogs, restaurants with outdoor seating, and a magical little place called the Jersey Shore.
Colleen Heavens

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