Conference Call Anxiety?
Follow These 8 Tips for Confident Speaking In Meetings

There’s nothing abnormal about feeling too nervous to speak up in meetings, virtual or in-person. These 8 practices can help you feel more comfortable and confident before, during, and after your next work meeting.

All eyes and ears are on you, or at least it feels that way.

You know you need to speak up. Your manager has even mentioned a handful of times that she wishes you’d contribute more in these weekly meetings, that the team would love to hear from you.

You’re trying to think of something to say, anything at all.

But you can’t think of one single thing, or at least nothing other than Just say something!.

Your mind is going blank, and as each moment passes you realize more and more that there’s no way in h**l you’re contributing anything this time either.

Now, you’re even more nervous, even more self-conscious than you were at the start of the call. You’re convinced people are noticing your awkward silence- they have to be right?

It’s the same week after week.

Your conference call anxiety has your completely frozen. And it’s so maddening because you know how important it is to engage in these moments. It’s the way- the only way - to get noticed and grow in your career.

But the thing is:

When you’re nervous or overwhelmed, making yourself noticeable is the very last thing you want to do. It’s a real catch-22.


Why Do I Get Nervous In Meetings?

It might seem strange to feel so nervous when you’re sitting in a conference room or listening in on a Zoom call, especially when the meeting is a routine one that you regularly attend.

At some point, you’d think you would become more comfortable- that eventually you’d get over your fear and be able to speak up like you know you should.

But if week after week, you still find yourself logging on to your weekly status call with a pit in your stomach, you’re not alone. Plenty of professionals find themselves dealing with anticipatory anxiety before meetings.

And why is this the case?

Meeting anxiety can strike for a whole list of reasons:

  • You’re introverted or naturally shy
  • You experience glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, and haven’t yet found your answer for tackling it
  • You’re a natural observer- someone who prefers to listen first and speak later
  • You’re uncomfortable in the meeting environment, whether it’s a large conference room or a virtual setting
  • You’re uncomfortable around your coworkers
  • You’re new to the job
  • Your work is going through a high-pressure and particularly stressful time
  • You come from a culture where speaking up isn’t the norm
  • You’re afraid of making a poor impression or of being seen as ill-prepared
  • You experience social anxiety and it’s triggered in a meeting environment

Your reason could be one, or even a combination, of any listed above.

At the end of the day, workplaces are stressful- period. And in high-stress situations, it’s normal to experience an adrenaline rush.

Why do you have trouble focusing on anything other than your phone anxiety during calls? Because that’s what your brain does when it receives the “panic signal”. It shuts down other activities and solely focuses on the stressor.

Don’t worry- it’s supposed to do this. So in a way, your meeting anxiety is a reassurance that all is good and working up top in your body.

Next, you may experience hallmarks of anxiety- physical and emotional. Things like:

  • Racing heart
  • Sweaty palms
  • Trembling hands
  • Shaky voice
  • Red cheeks
  • Wandering thoughts
  • Negative self-talk
  • Worry
  • Fear

Again, this is what your body is supposed to do when it senses a stressor.

But while your body may need to do this when there’s a real threat taking place, it doesn’t need to go into flight-or-fight mode during a meeting, virtual or otherwise. And in fact, with a little work, you can lessen the anxiety you feel when it comes to those dreaded meetings.


What About Conference Call Anxiety?

Virtual meetings, in particular, can come with a whole new set of anxieties for many. It can even be felt by those who don’t normally feel particularly nervous before an in-person meeting.

And why is that?

Conference calls, Zoom meetings, and virtual trainings are in many ways a completely different type of situation than an in-person meeting.

Even if the content of the meeting is the same, the environment or context of the situation may be completely different. And it’s normal to feel apprehensive toward this new change.

For many, an online meeting makes them feel even more under the microscope. The camera is focused too close to their face or the microphone is intimidating.

Common fears around virtual meetings include:

  • Not being able to adapt to change
  • Experiencing technical glitches
  • Struggling to figure out a new technology
  • Environmental factors like background noise or distractions
  • Limited body language from others in the meeting and a lack of other visual cues

Any of these concerns may lead you to experience what’s known as the Spotlight Effect, or a belief that you’re being noticed more than you actually are. In other words, others attending the meeting don’t share the same hyperfocus on you that you have on yourself.

So what can you do to minimize your nerves and engage during meetings? We’ll go over actionable steps you can take before, during, and after your meetings to help you feel calmer and learn to be more confident during these pivotal moments.


Prepare As Much As Possible

For many of us, when something is making us nervous, our natural inclination is to avoid it altogether.

And while this may be comforting at the moment, it does nothing to help us overcome our fears and improve ourselves in the meantime.

So if meetings make you nervous, the last thing you probably want to do is spend more time thinking about them. But this, in fact, is exactly what you should do.

Always take time before a virtual meeting to prepare ahead of time.

But let’s dive a little deeper here- exactly what should you prepare?

Three things:

  • Your notes
  • Your environment
  • Yourself

First, learn what’s going to be talked about ahead of time so you can research information on it. Look through past email, research any metrics you might need to refer to, and browse through past reports. This alone will help you come to the table with talking points to draw upon.

You can even ask for an agenda to get a better idea of the main points that are expected to be covered.

It’s important to call out here that there is such a thing as too much preparation. Your goal is to come to the table informed, not to show up with fully scripted answers to every possible question that may be asked.

First, this approach makes you sound more like an automated robot than an active participant. And second, it’s frankly a waste of time. You can’t possibly know every single thing that will come up and exactly how the meeting will go.

Focus on the points that matter most and those you can best contribute to yourself. And try to become comfortable with the idea that it’s ok to say you don’t have an answer at the moment. There’s nothing wrong or shameful about needing to follow-up after a meeting. That, in fact, as we’ll discuss later, is in itself a form of meeting participation.

Next, prepare your environment. This is pivotal if a meeting is virtual and you’re taking the call somewhere other than your office. Set up a place for you to take the call.

This includes:

  • A clean background that’s not distracting
  • A quiet place with as little background noise as possible
  • All of the supplies you need like strong internet, your computer, headphones, and something to take notes on

Finally, prepare yourself- what do you need to feel at your best at the start of your meeting? We’ll talk about some techniques and key steps you can take to help you feel relaxed a little later on.

But preparing yourself doesn’t have to start in the 10 minutes before a meeting begins. In fact, it’s something you should be doing well-ahead of time.

For many, being afraid to speak during meetings is connected to a larger fear of public speaking, what’s also known as glossophobia.

So practice as much as possible. Try things like joining Toastmasters, practicing a speech in front of trusted friends, or making it a goal to tell a story at next week’s dinner. Purposely put yourself in situations where you’re learning to grow more comfortable with speaking in front of others.

The more you practice, the more likely you’ll be able to translate this skill over to your work meetings.


Acknowledge Pre-Meeting Jitters

What do you feel before the start of a work call?

Is there a pit in your stomach? Do you feel fidgety- like you need to get up and walk around? Maybe a little bit sweaty?

Are you giving yourself a pep talk or are you already shaming yourself for not being better prepared? Or maybe you’re consistently checking your connection because you’re convinced your computer will go out right in the middle of your call.

Although many of us feel anxious in meetings, we all experience our nerves differently. And understanding exactly how you experience your nerves is key to finding a solution that can help you move forward.

So take note of what and how you’re feeling before a virtual meeting. For example:

  • Physical: I feel a little shaky in my legs and notice that my palms start to get sweaty when I enter a meeting room.
  • Emotional: I’m flustered and distracted. I have trouble staying focused on how I’m going to engage and contribute to the call.
  • Cognitive: I just think about how much I want the call to be over with already or how I wish it could just be an email.

Knowing exactly what you think, feel, and experience in your body is the only way to understand what you need to address.

For instance, if you have negative thoughts about yourself before a meeting, you may consider a reframing exercise to turn those thoughts into something else. Or if you feel jittery, you could try a quick exercise to turn the nerves into positive energy.

Find solutions that match what you experience in your stress.

Common ways of dealing with pre-meeting jitters include:

  • Walking meditation
  • Breathwork
  • Talking to a close friend or family member who can cheer you up
  • Visualization
  • Eating a banana
  • Smiling

It’s not actually important what you do to manage your nerves- what’s important is to do something about them. Don’t ignore what you’re feeling. Find something that will help you remain calm and stay focused.


Become Familiar With The Meeting Space

I’m sure you’ve heard of this trick when it comes to giving a presentation or speech. But guess what?

It works great for meetings too.

Familiarizing yourself with a space is key to helping yourself grow more comfortable in it. Virtual spaces are no exception.

Arrive at least 5-10 minutes before the start of a meeting. If it’s taking place in a physical space like a conference room, walk around a little bit. If it’s online, go ahead and log in.

In either case, use this extra time to make sure you’re fully prepared:

  • Check that you have a place to take notes and a pen
  • Check that you have any past notes or reports you may need to refer to
  • Make sure you have a strong internet connection
  • Check that your camera and mic are working properly if they’ll be used

Because you’ve arrived early, you have plenty of time to calmly walk through these steps without feeling rushed.

Arriving early also gives you the chance to greet people as they join. If you have social anxiety, this may be the last thing you think you want to do.

Small talk? No thank you.

But think about it this way:

Engaging with others before the meeting starts means you’ve already broken the ice. You’ve already spoken!

It also helps you draw allies in the room, someone who you can look at when you’re speaking.

Showing up too close to the start time may be tempting, but it can also leave you feeling rushed and even exacerbate your nerves.

On the other hand, coming early gives you time that’s essential to help you thaw the ice and warm the room, creating a space that’s more comfortable for you to speak in.

So do yourself a favor, and log-in (or show up) early.


Be One Of The First To Speak

This is probably the most alarming tip in the entire list, and it may make you want to close this out and run away.

But hear me out for a moment:

The longer you wait to speak in a meeting, the harder it becomes.

Procrastinating only gives your anxiety time to build- for your negative thoughts to start swirling, for your hands to start shaking.

Waiting only gives your anxiety more time to fester and more power to control you.

Don’t give it that time. Instead, speak up as soon as you can.

Before your next virtual meeting, set a goal for yourself. For instance, I’m going to say something in the first 10 minutes. Or: When they’re reviewing the notes from last week’s meeting at the start, I’m going to mention the report I found yesterday.

Think of a time during the meeting when it will be easiest for you to contribute, and go ahead and do it.

This doesn’t mean you need to say a lot; in fact, you can say something brief to start. The point is to make it a goal to contribute as early on as you possibly can. By doing so, you’ll break the ice, prevent your anxiety from shutting you down, and show yourself that it’s not as scary as you imagined it would be.

Here are some easy ways for you to speak up during your next meeting:

  • Be a part of the welcoming or introduce someone who’s new to the team
  • Ask a question. This can be something as simple as, Do you mind sharing a few more details about that?
  • Follow-up on something that was discussed in the last call or meeting
  • Offer an opinion- In talking to our customers, I think adding this new feature before the end of the quarter is crucial in improving our retention rates.
  • Offer an update- I spoke with accounting last week, and they did confirm that we have the budget needed to test our new digital ads.

One last thing here:

Do you find yourself waiting for inspiration to strike before speaking? Or do you tell yourself you’ll know the perfect moment to say something when it arrives?

Well, don’t. Inspiration won’t suddenly strike, and there isn’t such a thing as that one perfect moment.

Instead, just plan to start with something short and simple.


Remain Authentic

You don’t have to turn yourself into a speaking superstar before you begin engaging during your meetings. In fact, you’ll most likely find that most of the people sitting in with you don’t consider themselves perfect speakers either.

Even those who regularly contribute would likely admit they get nervous at times as well.

Changing who you are isn’t a part of learning to feel confident in sharing your thoughts in these settings. It’s important to still be you.

In fact, placing your focus on becoming the type of speaker that reflects who you are and the strengths you can bring to the table is a much more effective approach.

Are you a naturally quiet speaker? Don’t try and turn yourself into someone who’s loud. Instead, focus on making your voice just loud enough to be heard.

Are you more of an observer? Great! People with strong listening skills often provide the most valuable input. Use what you observe and turn it into a short and thoughtful response. This will go a lot further than trying to speak up as much as possible with little substance.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when engaging during calls and meetings:

  • Don’t interrupt, but do make it clear you have something to say. Simply raising your hand or unmuting your mic will let the room know you have something to contribute.
  • Tie your comment back to something someone else has already said. This shows that, even though you’ve been quiet, you’ve still been an active listener and engaged in the discussion.
  • Make eye contact. Find someone in the room or on the screen you’re most comfortable with and focus on sharing your thoughts with them.
  • Speak clearly and slowly. Taking a deep breath before you start to speak will help keep your nerves at bay while you get your words out.
  • Wear something you’re comfortable in.


Use Relaxation Techniques

When you’re in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, your body is flooded with stress hormones.

This, in turn, makes you even more nervous and creates a vicious cycle.

You knew you were going to be jittery before this month’s all hands. Then, your heart started pounding. This not only confirmed that you were in fact nervous, but it also made you afraid everyone else could smell your fear.

So how do you keep your stress response from completely taking you over?

By replying to your stress with a relaxation response. Here are a few techniques you can try for yourself.


When you’re nervous, your mind tends to wander. This is particularly bad when you’re in a situation- like a virtual meeting- where you need to maintain active participation. So offer your brain a distraction.

An easy way to do this is to bring a pen and paper to every meeting. Simply taking notes prevents your mind from going elsewhere and keeps you present and engaged in the current moment.


Breathwork is simply a practice of bringing your attention to your breathing. There are several different types of breathing you can turn to and all can be effective. In the end, it really isn’t so important which you choose. It’s more about finding the one that you can stay focused on and that makes you feel calm.

Breathing exercises have been shown to lessen the stress response and invoke a calming sensation.

Repetitive Mantra

Find a phrase that means something to you and repeat it silently to yourself over and over again.

Try something like I belong here or They do want to hear what I have to say. Again, it’s not what you say that’s really that important (although, it should be something positive). It’s more about finding something that helps reassure you and staves off any negative thoughts than tend to interrupt your focus.


If you feel like you can’t get control of physical anxious symptoms- like a racing heart, flushed face, shaky voice - beta-blockers may be a helpful option to you.

Beta-blockers prevent these annoying physical symptoms and help you appear calm and confident. They’re often used by professional performers, executives, speakers, and doctors to counter anxious symptoms with calm competence.

It’s important to note that beta-blockers are a prescription medication, so you’ll need to speak with your doctor to learn if this solution is right for you.


Take Action On Next Steps

Now that you’re done with the meeting, you can take a big sigh of relief and just move on, right? Not so fast.

Contributing during the actual meeting itself should be a goal you set for yourself. After all, this is the best way to show you’re interested and engaged in your work. It’s also your best bet for opening yourself up for new opportunities.

However, during a virtual meeting isn’t the only time you can engage. Once a meeting ends, you can still offer thoughts, opinions, and follow-ups.

If you’re experiencing meeting anxiety, this might be an ideal time for you to jump in. First of all, it helps you find a way to participate. Secondly, it offers you an easy in for finding something to talk about in the next meeting.

Once you’ve hit the “End Meeting” button, ask yourself:

What needs more research? What action steps can be started today? Is there anything anyone forgot to mention?

If there’s a next step that can be taken today, do it. And don’t be shy about mentioning to your team via email that you’ve gone ahead and taken this initiative.

This is an easy way to dip your toes into contributing and it also pushes you one step further toward your ultimate goal.

If there isn’t an immediate next step that can be taken, try following up with a new thought.

Maybe you found yourself frozen during the morning check-in call even though you promised yourself you would speak up.

Well, don’t worry. It’s not too late.

Send an email as a follow-up to the earlier meeting. You can summarize the main points that were discussed, ask a new question, or offer an opinion you didn’t share earlier.

This might be a less intimidating way for you to enter the conversation. And again, it may offer an easy stepping off point for next time.


Review Your Performance

If there’s anything you take away from these tips, it should be this:

When it comes to building mental toughness and overcoming fears, your work is never done.

No matter how your last meeting went, terribly or exceptionally, take the time to review and reflect.

Start by celebrating what went well for you. Maybe your manager referenced a comment you made before the meeting or maybe you were able to break the ice with a coworker you felt was cold toward you.

Find something positive that happened, no matter how small, and give yourself props for taking another step forward. It isn’t always easy to do and you deserve to recognize your progress.

Next, evaluate what could have gone better. Be careful here- this isn’t a time for you to beat yourself up. Rather, this is time for you to recognize where you need to continue putting your energy so you can keep moving forward.

For instance, let’s say someone interrupted you when you finally did manage to speak to say they couldn’t hear you. Instead of growing angry at the moment, remind yourself to check your mic or speak up next time.

Taking the time to break down how things went is crucial in helping you move forward and do even better next time.