RAF Corporal Howard Charlton on a common nightmare: having to introduce yourself at meetings.
As I’ve gained seniority within the Royal Air Force, albeit still a junior leader, I have found myself sitting in increasing numbers of meetings, usually with senior staff, to discuss various supply chain matters. As a young corporal, and after my first experience of such meetings, I quickly developed an intense fear of accepting meeting invitations. This wasn’t due to the dreariness of the topic or the predictable wasted hours of my life that I would never get back, but rather the dreaded introductions!
My fear began long before the start of each meeting; in fact, it gripped me as soon as I was told about the requirement for me to attend. I would get a copy of the agenda and search frantically to see whether there was any mention of having to introduce ourselves. Unsurprisingly, the agenda always stated that introductions would be conducted immediately after an administrative brief.
What I found most difficult was the inevitability of the situation... there is no escape.
So, there I was, sat in an intimidating room trying to suppress my fear of the situation as someone important was bleating on about such things as where the toilets were, that smoking was still prohibited, and something about the fire alarm. Amongst this activity, all I could think of was one thing: the next item on the agenda.
Looking back, what I found most difficult was the inevitability of the situation: once I’m sat in my chair around the large conference table, there is no escape. Barring running out the door like a complete madman, at some point in the very near future I am going to have to force out my most dreaded words to the silent room…my own name.
I would sit there intently observing the Chair, who would indulge in a prolonged introduction before handing the baton over to the next person. I could only await my fate. I would use this time to practice in my head what I would say, trying to convince myself that it would go well, whilst also fantasising of a time when this part would be over.
In contrast, if the introductions were skipped either intentionally or in error, I felt overwhelmed by relief but then often succumbed to feelings of shame that I had let this affect me so much.
However, over the years, having been through this situation many times and having been fortunate to have attended various courses at City Lit, which helped a lot, I can now reason how disproportionate my feelings were. I now accept that most of the time no one is listening nor cares what people’s names are during the introductions; I strongly suspect that people are more preoccupied with thoughts about their online grocery shop or something.
In addition, If I stammer when I introduce myself, what’s the consequence? Sure, others may pick up on my stammer, but they will undoubtedly forget this within a few seconds before deploying their strategy to manufacture an opportunity to share their profound contribution.
My acceptance of my stammer has now enabled me to fully engage and participate in meetings, with or without fluent speech. That said, I still try to sit as close to the Chair as possible to get the introduction over with…those pesky introductions!
For pointers on coping with stammering in the workplace, visit our At work page.