How to Succeed in a Brainstorming Session When You’re an Introvert Who Dreads Speaking Up

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In this day and age, organizations are looking for innovation from their teams. It’s a way for businesses to stand out, thrive, and grow. And many of those organizations rely heavily on brainstorming sessions to get there. Now, this is where introverts usually panic, right? We may think, “I tend to panic in a room full of people,” or “My brain needs time to process, and I can’t throw out a bunch of ideas out of the blue,” or even “Will they think I don’t have great ideas if I don’t speak up?” And so on and so forth.

Long story short, it certainly doesn’t make introverts jump for joy when we’re invited to a brainstorming session. This is a shame, because introverts have a lot to offer. However, it doesn’t need to be this way. With a little creativity on our part and that of the meeting organizers, a brainstorming session can be a totally different — even invigorating — experience. Here are 6 tips to help you succeed in a brainstorm session when you’re an introvert who dreads speaking up:

1. Notice and name it. We’re no strangers to the fact that people don’t always understand introversion and how it impacts us. Chances are they are not being intentional about not setting us up for success, and they would make changes if given the opportunity. So, talk to the people who are hosting the brainstorming session and explain the challenge you’re facing. Tell them that with a few small tweaks, they could be getting even more amazing ideas from the people like you who tend to be quiet. Then, work with them to create a better solution (more on this later). Most people will appreciate your willingness to share your perspective.

2. Brainstorm on brainstorms. Seriously, though, what would make it a better experience for you and other introverts? Might it be a facilitator who is sensitive to the situation, and who is mindful of trying to create opportunities for everyone to be heard? Would having an agenda in advance alleviate some of your stress and make you more willing to attend — and even participate? Are there ways that brainstorms could happen online, which would alleviate the pressure of face-to-face interaction? There are plenty of ways to make these situations more manageable and, dare I say, even enjoyable if we’re willing to take some time to suggest changes. Be willing to do that work for or with the facilitator to create the best experience possible for everyone.

3. Preparation is key. If you know you tend to freeze on the spot, have some interesting ideas or solutions in the back of your mind prior to joining the session. Do a little reading about the subject — there is nothing wrong with that, and it will likely enhance your ability to think of more ideas in the moment. If prepping in advance makes the difference between you being able to happily contribute or dreading the experience, it is well worth the extra time.

4. Fight your nerves. All of the prepping in the world may not curb your anxiety about speaking up, and that is okay. Be kind to yourself. You showed up and are working on it. However, you can pull out a few tricks. Do you have a thought that you’re too panicked to share? Take a few deep breaths before raising your hand. (Raising your hand is a great cue to the facilitator that you’d like to share, and it avoids having to battle the group for attention.) Even something as simple as breathing may calm you down enough to engage. Or, think to yourself, What is the worst that could happen if they don’t like my idea? Chances are, you won’t be immediately escorted out of the building and asked to never return. If they pass and move onto something else, the sun will come out tomorrow, and you’ll live to see another day. Also, don’t forget that small wins count. If you’re too intimidated to throw out ideas, start by raising some questions for others to answer. Work on just getting your voice heard (even if your words aren’t perfect) and eventually sharing will become easier.

5. Stop focusing on you. If you spend your time thinking about how you haven’t said anything or worrying that everyone thinks you’re too quiet, no wonder you can’t think of any good ideas! Focus on the challenge at hand and don’t beat yourself up. Keep practicing and you’ll get to where you want to be.

6. Listen and share thoughts after the session. Use those amazing listening skills of yours. Take notice of what people are and are not saying. Take notes, then share your thoughts with the facilitator after the session. That way, your ideas are being heard and considered.

Our introversion doesn’t have to hold us back from contributing in meaningful ways to our organizations. With a few conversations, willing partners, advance notice, and a desire to make change, we’ll get to where we want to be. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it!

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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert

Learn more: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain  retina_favicon1

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  • njguy54

    I personally have no problem speaking up in brainstorming or ideation sessions; a well-led session will make all the participants feel safe, valued and respected. When I’ve led such sessions, I’ve used the “dot voting” technique, whereby participants can write their ideas on sticky notes and post them on a wall. Then, everybody gets a set of sticky dots, and they place those dots by the ideas they like the best; when they’ve used up their dots, they are done voting. This way, everyone gets a “voice” even if they aren’t comfortable speaking up. In fact, I’ve found it’s the only efficient way to run such a session with a large group.

    Another approach is the Delphi technique, which is simply to have everyone submit their ideas anonymously to a facilitator. With Delphi, there’s no judgment, and there’s no way of knowing who submitted an idea; it could be the CEO or the newest intern. Ideas are rated strictly on their merits and not on who proposed them.