Thursday, April 19, 2007

speaking trouble

I am currently part-way through a week-long meeting.

This is difficult for me. I dislike even the shortest meetings. (Admittedly, most I've ever attended have been dominated by clergymen. But for once, this is not the root of my trouble).

I just can't speak normally in a meeting. Everything I utter is the result of frantic mental preparation and stress and materialises in rather garbled, nervy form. It's difficult to analyse such linguistic incompetence - I'd pass for articulate in almost every other scenario - but I'll try to pin down some of the reasons for it.

1) I'm keen to get any meeting over and done with, so why prolong them with my own speech?
2) Surely the other people in the room are cleverer than me and so already know what I'm about to say?..........
3) ....or else are so stupid that they won't understand what I mean anyway, so I may as well keep quiet.
4) Speech will reveal my extremely naive take on the situation being discussed.
3) 'Meeting talk' is a complex blend of conversation and public address. In conversation, I focus on people, not work. In public, I like to say amazing and life-changing things. It's impossible to do either satisfactorily in a meeting.
4) Unless I'm the chairman (heaven forbid), my role in a meeting is never entirely clear. How do I fit in? What am I supposed to say?

When asked to present a speech on a particular topic, I do it pretty well. When asked to be quiet and take minutes, I'll happily get on with it. But leave me to fend for myself in that grey area between 'practical tasks' and 'speech for its own sake' and I'll flounder.

Second problem this week has been the fact that I'm terribly self-conscious. After a day or so spent sitting silently in a meeting, I become increasingly convinced that everyone else is consumed by wondering why I don't contribute more. This leads to self-doubt and even, given half a chance, self-loathing.

My main question, I imagine, should be: in what way have I moved on since my 12th birthday?

Aaaah well. Onward and upward.


Martin said...

Can't think of helpful advice, but will pray.

Anonymous said...

I used to have a policy in meetings that if I said a couple of sensible things near the beginning I then had free reign to make jokes during the rest of the meeting. Not sure it was the best policy, so I'm usually a little more boring now, but it comes back occasionally.

Steve Tilley said...

Your meetings are being badly chaired. A good chair will involve others as early as possible. So this is not your fault.

You are never thought to be stupid if you ask questions. Especially if you prefix them with 'I may be being dim but I am a bit new round here and could someone explain wht this means?'

Even better. 'Just remind me of the aim of this discussion again.'

Finally, if you have an agenda, prepare a speech or speeches which you may or may not use.

Lastly (sorry about having another point afer finally but I am a vicar) always take something to a meeting that will occupy your mind if the meeting isn't.

Rich Burley said...

I love your posts and the insights into your mind. I realise how similar it is to mine, but manifests itself in different ways.

Generally I'm bored by meetings and hate the way people move the subject offroad down a track that either corresponds with the last thing they watched on TV / read in the newspaper, or manifests one of their pet hates or annoyances.

The problem is I seem completely unable to stop myself doing it. After the meeting I then hate myself for talking too much and not knowing anything.