We all know that audiences are drawn to a speaker with confidence. We all know that we need to have confidence as speakers. But what is this magical thing called confidence, and where does it come from?
How do you gain the ability to believe in yourself and to demonstrate that belief to the whole world? Do you always have to feel confident to look confident? And is reducing anxiety the same thing as gaining confidence?
Let’s explore these questions and solve the mystery of this most desirable and elusive trait.
First of all, what does confidence look like? A confident speaker exudes positive energy that feeds and excites the audience. A confident speaker appears strong and authoritative, but not intimidating. A confident speaker appears relaxed but not sloppy, positive but not saccharine, and knowledgeable but not arrogant. Whew! That’s a lot to live up to.
Confidence is both mental and physical. It’s the positive way you perceive yourself, and it’s the way your body projects that positive self-image. Here are some strategies to move toward both the mental and physical expression of confidence.
Pointer 1: Always be prepared
You must be well-prepared in order to feel confident. That means you’re speaking about a topic you believe in, you know your topic inside and out, you’ve organized your thoughts into a cohesive presentation, and you’ve practiced it enough not to be thrown off by unexpected questions or mishaps. “Winging it” or tossing together your presentation the day before it’s due is only going to increase any anxiety you have about speaking.
Preparation means visiting the venue where you’ll be speaking to get a feel for the room, the layout, where people will be sitting, how much you’ll have to project your voice, and how intimate or formal the setting will be. Where will your equipment go? Where will you stand? Feeling comfortable in the space where you’re speaking will increase your confidence.
Preparation also means anticipating distractions or mishaps. Plan ahead for computer glitches, hostile audience members, forgetting your place, a waiter dropping a plate, and any other problem that might arise. Anticipating mishaps is not the same as worrying about them. When you’ve got Plan B and Plan C in place, you can actually relax more, because you know you’re ready for anything.
Pointer 2: Embrace your uniqueness and imperfections
A confident speaker doesn’t worry about what the audience thinks of her. A confident speaker is more concerned with delivering value and meeting the audience’s needs. So what if you have a lisp, a visible tattoo or a hearing impairment? So what if you have a Scottish accent, a booming voice or you’re from the projects? Make the most of your uniqueness, stand out from the crowd, and be proud of who you are!
If you have a strong accent, slow down when you speak and get feedback on your presentation before you deliver it to make sure you can be understood. If you have a booming voice, make sure to use vocal variation, and be sensitive to the size of the room and how close the audience is to you. The point is this: make your uniqueness work for you, not against you. Never be ashamed or embarrassed about who you are.
Audiences don’t want speakers who are perfect, by the way. They want to be able to relate to and connect with the speaker. A presenter who is perfect makes her achievements seem unattainable. Be human, be real, and be you.
Use positive self-talk to reframe the way you perceive yourself as a person and a speaker. Before your presentation, say to yourself, “I believe in myself,” or “I’m special and unique, and there’s no one in the world like me.” It seems a little corny, but affirmations work! Pair your mental practice with physical practice. Make sure your posture, eye contact and body language also say “I’m confident.”
Pointer 3: Don’t apologize
A confident speaker doesn’t let the audience know when he’s nervous. What? Confident speakers get nervous? Yes, of course they do!
The difference between a confident speaker and one who lacks confidence is that the latter tries to gain favor with the audience by pointing out or apologizing for his nervousness. This doesn’t gain points with the audience; in fact, it makes them pity the poor speaker. A confident speaker doesn’t want pity; he wants respect! A confident speaker appears calm and relaxed, even when nervous. This takes physical and mental practice, but the pros do it every day and so can you.
When things go wrong in your presentation, don’t dwell on them and don’t announce them. The audience most likely has no idea that you’ve lost your place or left something out. Keep going as though nothing has happened; the show must go on.
In the event that you make an obvious mistake, like spilling your water all over the lectern, take care of the problem quickly, lighten up the situation with a little humor, then move on. If you dwell on it, so will the audience. Successfully and smoothly handling a mishap shows you’re a professional and adds to the audience’s positive perception of you.
These tips are mostly about how you perceive yourself and how the audience perceives you as a result. You don’t have to be confident to appear confident, but the beauty of this mental and physical practice is that the more you appear confident to others, the more your confidence will grow for real. When you believe in yourself and believe in your message, your audience will, too.
About the Author
Lisa Braithwaite works with individuals to uncover their challenges and build their strengths in presenting themselves confidently as speakers. Find your voice with public speaking coaching! Sign up for my newsletter and find out about my free consultation by visiting http://www.coachlisab.com.