I recently delivered my public speaking workshop Presentation Savvy to a global NGO. The room was full of smart, serious, accomplished people – world travellers, post-nominals, senior gigs – you get the drift.
Yet one question created such interest that I thought it was worth a blog. The question: how do I fake confidence?
It’s a good question as Western society highly values and respects confidence. Rightly or wrongly, confident people are considered credible, smart and worth obeying.
This is very bad news for people who lack confidence, are skewed towards introversion and genuinely feel nauseous at the thought of having the spotlight turned towards them.
Here’s the good news:
One of the great truths of public speaking is that audiences respond only to what they see and hear. They don’t know what you don’t tell them and they can’t hear the internal dialogue rattling through your brain.
So if they see you as confident they will presume you to be confident and respond accordingly. Furthermore – acting confident can lead to feeling confident which is better than feeling nauseous.
So how do you fake confidence if you don’t genuinely feel it? Do as the confident folk do:
Confident speakers don’t tell audiences that they are nervous. Don’t reveal that you are feeling anything but great. Nobody cares anyway and people tend to see in you what you tell them to see. Don’t ask for sympathy – just be great. When taking the stage make an ad lib about the previous speaker, the event or a current event that pertains to your presentation. Confident people make jokes and laugh other people witticisms. If you are nervous let them work it out for themselves.
Confident speakers have voices that are strong and steady with some variety in pacing and pitch. Deep breaths before taking the stage can help achieve this. Better to be too loud than quiet as quiet signals a lack of confidence.
Confident speakers walk and talk and move and gesticulate. We have never bought into the whole bollocks of “power poses” (even the woman who made her fortune from the concept now denies their power) but I do acknowledge that our bodies readily reveal confidence or apprehension. Confident speakers stand up straight. They look like they wish to be on stage – whether they want to be or not.
Confident speakers make eye contact and are unafraid to hold someone’s gaze. (Not for hours – that’s creepy.)
Confident speakers dress snappily. One of the easiest ways to boost your confidence is to feel that you are looking your best. In some instances that might be a conservative but well-groomed appearance for others it might entail some sartorial splendour. For goodness sake life is short – look sharp.
Confident people don’t fidget with their belongings, hair or PowerPoint presentation.
Confident speakers have a clear purpose to their actions before hitting the stage. Less confident people are easily taken on a tangent. If you need to see the A.V people to sort out your microphone see to it straight away. Don’t waste time on pleasantries. Ask questions; get yourself sorted.
Confident people remain calm. They don’t crumble if they experience a small mistake such as a PowerPoint glitch or dropped speech notes. They simply move on. Happily, audiences are very forgiving. (Really.)
Confident people are engaged and present. Nervous people are unaware of their surroundings and are instead focused internally. Confident people are more externally focused and happy to ask others questions or solicit their opinions. Do not lurk in corners. Meet and greet, mix and mingle.
Confident speakers rely less on scripts and speak more personally. Those who are confident do not need a script as they know what they want to say. They can incorporate an unexpected question or opportunity. Confident public speakers share more with their audiences. They are more than willing to reflect, relate a personal story and speak from their own experience which is far more interesting.
Confident people cope well when someone disagrees with them. Q&A time strikes terror into some speakers’ hearts. I’ve had an audience member wish my business go bankrupt and parts of my anatomy go AWOL. Another threatened to hit me. (Yes, really.)
If someone disagrees or has a different perspective put yourself into journalist mode and ask them questions to tease out their position. Anxious, nervous people can be defensive in such situations which is always a bad look. It’s a good look and you might learn something. Confident people are not afraid to ask for help or an opinion. Nor are they afraid to give one.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it and refer the question to the room to see if someone holds the answer. (We’re all in this together.)
Confident speakers can take a compliment. They don’t try to argue with the person giving the complement nor do they gnaw on the complement like a starving dog with a rubber bone. They simply accept the complement thank the compliment and move the conversation on. Pro-tip: confident people extend compliments to others.
Genuinely confident people don’t feel the need to boast. While they don’t downplay their achievements they wait for an appropriate moment to mention their local government award or gifted child. (Note: if you have a child who is gifted be aware that no one believes your child is gifted and no one wants to hear about the child anyway.)
Confident people do the work. I have a confession to make: I’m a very confident person. When I’m speaking, emceeing or training I’m doing what I like to do, what I’m good at and what I’ve done for a long time.
That said, each year I have about 8 gigs that challenge my confidence. The challenge might be a twist to the usual content, the audience or the client. Perhaps there are some internal politics that threaten to end the day in tears. Sometimes I can’t quite put my finger on why a certain event poses an extra challenge.
I make it a point to take on these engagements as a way to push myself. My hope and belief is that the audiences in these situations don’t realise I’m less confident than usual. As always audiences take me at face value.
When I’m faced with one of these challenging gigs I spend extra time preparing, research the client, audience, issue more deeply than usual and show up a little early, ready for action. It works.
Is this blog simply telling you to fake it until you make it? Yeah; probably. But as anyone who was faked anything until they made it knows…sometimes this stuff really works.
BTW: there’s nothing wrong with some nerves.
My advice is to not attempt to incorporate all of these confident characteristics at once. Oh and forget about alcohol or any medication to calm yourself. Work on several of these tips at a time and as your competence and confidence grows continue to push yourself. If you have a trusted ally to monitor you and report back on your confidence level that will help you.
Good luck. If my Presentation Savvy workshop can help you get in touch.
If you enjoyed this blog you’ll love my blog on personal branding and people skills. It’s written for people who cringe when they hear the phrase “personal branding”.