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Pre-Meeting Jitters: Outta My Way

Posted on February 12, 2007

By Jean Jaworek

Meetings make me nervous.  There, I’ve said it, well, I was actually mouthing the words while typing, but I’m taking ownership of my anxiety, putting it out there…sharing.

It doesn’t matter whether I’m planning it, attending one planned by someone else or a talking head perched atop a lectern, the prospect of the experience regardless of how worthwhile I might believe it to be, always makes me sweat.  Why?  I don’t know.  Something from early childhood perhaps, performance anxiety dating back to a Brownie Scouts Fly-Up assembly or earlier, maybe a pre-school sandbox mixer freighted with the double whammy of critical social skill acquisition and tightly scheduled, parentally scrutinized recreation.  Why delve?

Carpe diem.  Projecting my own experience, I’m thinking quite a few others –even some with PLANNER embossed on their business cards—share my Angst at least episodically and could benefit from a few pre-conference, jitter-reduction strategies.  For the sake of truth in self-advertising: There is likely nothing novel here. For the most part these measures treat symptoms rather than underlying causes.  I offer no cure.  Still I’ve found these effective in controlling the flight fight impulse when I meet and greet and you might too.      

Here’s a list of what works for me:         

-Never go to a meeting hungry.  This includes and is especially true of breakfast meetings, particularly those where you will liaise with catering.   If you wait to eat when everyone else is eating, you might not get to it; moreover, by the time everyone else is ready to tuck in you will have likely noticed an inadequate quantity of (fill in the blank) creamers, syrup, artificial sweetener or that your guest speaker has forgotten his bifocals and won’t be able to read his notes from the podium.  You don’t want to deal with this stuff when your blood sugar starts to totter or hit the skids.  Your meeting triage skills will be sharpest if you have at least some brain fuel available. 
-Bring your own pen, a spare and something to write on.  If this is a no-brainer how is it that I have never attended a meeting where I or someone around me has failed to ask for one or the other?  This is particularly important at set-up when you are likely to open the boxes with stationery supplies last. Carefully labeled boxes detailing the contents of each don’t do you much good when the hotel or conference center has erected a box obelisk, possibly in homage to your meeting, with your stationery supplies into its foundation.
Note: Pens are good for more than writing.  A well-aimed pen with enough blunt force can pierce strapping tape.  With a pen you can open your own boxes, without having to hunt down the single guy on the maintenance staff with a working box cutter.

-Say hello to people in your orbit of activity and smile.  When you feel edgy or nervous, there’s a tendency to give yourself over to your own worry and preoccupation.  When you start shutting out others, you begin the inexorable drain-circling to the black hole of self-absorption.  Space and time distort and you are very likely to blow some imagined slight to magilla proportions.  For example, you might start thinking that the raising or lowering of room lights is a life and death issue. Your rational, balanced self knows better, but your pressured, egocentric self might not have it down pat.  It is a good idea to remind yourself that there are others with you, around you who might even be able to help you with whatever. Conveying a sense of how glad your are to see them, serves an important reminder.  You are not alone.   

-Keep alcohol and caffeine consumption to a minimum before and during a meeting. 
If you are reading this, you are likely a grown-up and there is no need to belabor this  issue. You know why.

-Deep breathing.  When you get the tightness of chest that is the precursor of tears, an angry outburst or panic, a few lung-swelling, modulated breaths can save the day.  As you are about to say a few words, nod for the first Powerpoint projection, or any time you step into the breach, you probably won’t have time to stretch out on a yoga mat and slowly convince your  shoulders and feet to melt to the floor. But you can still inhale and slowly letting out a half dozen breaths almost anywhere and you will feel calmer—better really -- for having done so.      

You want to do a good job.  A few or all of these steps might help you get it done.  They might help you remember to enjoy it too.   


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Traveling to a meeting

Thank you this will be helpful!

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